The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office today is charging 49-year-old Griffin Campbell with six (6) counts of Third Degree Murder, six (6) counts of Involuntary Manslaughter, thirteen (13) counts of Recklessly Endangering Another Person (REAP), Causing Catastrophe, Risking Catastrophe, and Criminal Conspiracy for his role in the deadly building collapse at 22nd and Market Streets in June.
42-year-old Kary R. Roberts (a.k.a. Sean Benschop) is also facing an additional charge of Criminal Conspiracy. Roberts is currently in jail awaiting a preliminary hearing for six (6) counts of Involuntary Manslaughter, thirteen (13) counts of REAP, and Risking a Catastrophe for his role in the deadly collapse.
The grand jury investigation of the collapse of the building at 22nd and Market Streets, on June 5, 2013, is not over. Last week, however, the grand jury voted to issue a presentment against demolition contractor Griffin Campbell, recommending his indictment for third degree murder and related charges. Campbell is expected to turn himself into Central Detectives later this afternoon.
“I hope Griffin Campbell’s arrest today will give the victims and their families some small sense of relief, though I know their pain will never go away,” said District Attorney Seth Williams. “This arrest is just one step along the road to justice. There is more work to be done, and I would like to thank the Grand Jury as it continues the difficult investigation into this tragic collapse. ”
The presentment describes evidence that places Campbell at the center of culpability for the collapse, which killed six people and seriously injured several others. It was Campbell who decided on the method of demolition and who personally controlled it in the manner that caused the catastrophe. Numerous witnesses, experienced in the field of demolition, have testified that there was one appropriate way to demolish a building of this type in this location: the building should have been taken down by hand, piece by piece, floor by floor.
But that demolition method is expensive and time-consuming, and Campbell had agreed to a deadline and a flat-fee contract plus salvage rights to materials recovered from the building. He chose to maximize his profit by first removing all the wooden joists holding up the floors. The joists were valuable for resale.
But taking the joists out first meant dismantling the building from the inside out, rather than from the top down. That left the exterior walls without sufficient support. It is possible that, with appropriate safeguards, Campbell might still have avoided the tragedy despite his failure to employ the appropriate demolition method. Scaffolding or other bracing might have kept the exterior walls standing long enough to take them apart without a collapse.
Instead of doing that, Campbell did exactly the opposite. On the day before the collapse he removed bricks and braces that had provided the minimal remaining support for the west wall. That evening Campbell was specifically warned by an architect that the largely free-standing west wall had to be immediately addressed, right now. Campbell promised that he would rectify the problem at once, before the next morning, by erecting scaffolding and reducing the west wall by hand down to the one-story roofline of the Salvation Army building next door.
In reality, however, Campbell was unwilling to pay for enough labor to perform the task. On the morning of Wednesday, June 5th, most of the west wall still loomed over the job site and the Salvation Army building. Yet Campbell called the architect just after 9:00 to tell him – quite falsely – that the wall had been taken down. To make matters worse, Campbell had brought in a huge excavating machine, operated by Kary Roberts (a.k.a. Benschop), to extract joists and clear rubble. The heavy machine rumbled within inches of the unsupported external structure.
At 10:41 a.m., the west wall, along with the remaining portions of the southern and eastern walls, collapsed. Much of the tons of debris fell onto the Salvation Army building, crushing it – and those inside it.
In light of this evidence, the grand jury recommended that Griffin Campbell be charged with six (6) counts of Murder in the Third Degree, six (6) counts of Involuntary Manslaughter, thirteen (13) counts of Recklessly Endangering Another Person, and one count each of Causing a Catastrophe, Risking a Catastrophe, and Conspiracy. In addition, the grand jury has also recommended a new charge against Roberts of Conspiracy.
Once again, this arrest is not the end of the grand jury’s investigation. The District Attorney’s Office does not know at this time and cannot say whether the grand jury will find evidence of wrongdoing by other persons that would establish proof of criminal offenses. Nor will the grand jury comment on the merits of any civil lawsuits arising out of the collapse. Those lawsuits involve different legal standards and a much lower standard of proof, and they are outside the scope of the grand jury’s duties. The office can say, however, that the Grand Jury may- as it is their sole discretion and power- choose to issue a report in the future detailing its findings and may address policy implications.