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Judge Sentences Two for Fatal Collapse

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

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Finding one defendant remorseful and another disregarding public safety, a judge in Philadelphia sentenced two men accused of killing people when they caused a city building to collapse.

“There is no adequate way to describe here the impact of this on the victims and the many victims who did not die,” Common Pleas Judge Glenn Bronson told Griffin Campbell, according to philly.com. “This tragedy shocked this city to its core. We may never feel quite the same walking down the streets of Center City Philadelphia.”

Campbell, the contractor hired to tear down a building that collapsed June 5, 2013, onto an adjacent Salvation Army store, and Sean Benschop, the excavator on the job that day, each were sentenced on Friday (Jan. 8).

While the Philadelphia news source said the charges were similar, the judge sentenced Campbell to 15 to 30 years in prison for his role in the fatalities. Benschop received half of that—7½ to 15 years behind bars.

Similar Crimes, Different Men

The stories differ as to how the two men reached their sentencing hearings, but both were sentenced on the same day. According to previous reports, Campbell, 51, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter on Oct. 19. Benschop, however, pleaded guilty to six counts of involuntary manslaughter in July.

Benschop, 44, said told The Associated Press that he used to drink coffee with one of those killed—Borbor Davis—every morning.

“I say, ‘I’m from Guyana.’ He say, ‘I’m from Liberia,’” Benschop testified Friday before he was sentenced for his role in killing 68-year-old Davis and five others, the AP said. “When I learned ... he was dead, I couldn't believe it.”

The judge, according to the AP, said he found Benschop’s remorse sincere as he handed down his sentence. Benschop also asked if he could write to the victim’s families.

“Mr. Benschop advised others of the proper way to do things,” Benschop’s lawyer, William Davis said, according to the AP. “Then, faced with a decision to keep working to provide for his family or to walk away…he made a mistake.”

In contrast to Benschop—who reportedly broke down in tears—Campbell reportedly did not show emotional remorse. However, he did say he had hoped the $112,000 contract would be his big break after years of running a trash truck, the AP reported.

©iStock.com / JanPietruszka

The judge, according to the AP, said he found Benschop’s remorse sincere as he handed down his sentence. Benschop also asked if he could write to the victim’s families.

“This job meant a lot to me—a lot. I was going to be out of debt, and life was going to be good,” said Campbell, 51, a married father of four, the AP said.

Assistant District Attorney Edward Cameron asked the judge to sentence Benschop to 71/2 to 15 years in recognition of his remorse and testimony at Campbell’s trial, the Philadelphia news source reported.

“His first words to me were that he knew he made a big mistake and he’s sorry for it,” said Cameron. “He said he decided to feed his family and take the risk.”

Campbell, on the other hand, declined a plea deal, previous reports indicated.

Victims Speak Out

The judge also heard several victim impact statements during the sentencing, which included one from Philadelphia’s city treasurer Nancy Winkler. Her daughter—24-year-old Anne Bryan—was one of those killed when the building collapsed.

Killed in the collapse, in addition to Bryan and Davis, were Juanita Harmon, Roseline Conteh, Mary Simpson and Kimberly Finnegan. One survivor, pinned in the wreckage for 12 hours, lost both legs, previous reports indicate.

“The doctors tell me I will live to a normal age, but my life will be anything but normal,” Myra Plekan, who now lives in a nursing home, wrote in a letter to the judge, according to the AP. “I do look forward to when all people responsible for what happened when the Salvation Army store collapsed will be brought to justice.”

In October, the jury had acquitted Campbell of six counts of third-degree murder and a conspiracy charge, according to previous reports. But he also was found guilty of 13 counts of reckless endangerment, aggravated assault and causing a catastrophe.

‘Center of Culpability’

Prosecutors had accused Campbell of being at the “center of culpability” for the collapse. That day, a four-story building being demolished toppled onto the two-story Salvation Army thrift store killing and injuring shoppers and employees inside, previous reports indicate.

©iStock.com / stone18

In October, a jury acquitted Campbell of third-degree murder and a conspiracy charge. But he also was found guilty of 13 counts of reckless endangerment, aggravated assault and causing a catastrophe.

In addition to overseeing the day-to-day operations at the site, Campbell put in place a demolition plan that left the four-story masonry wall unsupported above the Salvation Army building, previous reports said.

Authorities had said Campbell removed the support beams so he could sell them for salvage.

The case was described as “complicated and unique” full of “expert testimony, engineering concepts and powerful witness testimony,” according to Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Selber.

According to the Associated Press, several of the victims’ families are suing building owner Richard Basciano, who was redeveloping the strip of stores, along with the Salvation Army and others.

A city inspector who had visited the site committed suicide days after the incident, although officials found no evidence of any wrongdoing, the AP said.


Tagged categories: Building materials; Construction; Criminal acts; Demolition; Ethics; Fatalities; Health and safety; Laws and litigation

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