By Syma Chowdhry, Dan Majka, Andrew Kramer
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The man who was operating an excavator at the scene of Wednesday’s deadly building collapse in Center City is in police custody.
42-year-old Sean Benschop turned himself in to authorities at Central Detectives just after 3:30 p.m. on Saturday with a red jacket pulled over his head and a bandage on his arm.
An arrest warrant was approved late Friday night for Benschop after a search warrant was executed on his home earlier in the day. Police removed two computers and another box of unknown items from the home.
Authorities say Benschop was operating an excavator at 22nd and Market Streets when a wall of a building, slated for demolition, fell onto and crushed the Salvation Army thrift store, leaving six people dead and 14 others injured (see related story).
Toxicology reports show that Benschop was on pain killers and had marijuana in his system. Benschop’s lawyer, Daine Grey, says “those are allegations, they are not true.”
The blood, along with urine, was taken from Benschop at the hospital approximately two hours after the collapse.
Benschop allegedly told investigators that he was in pain and taking medication after recently cutting his finger. Grey did not comment on the injury, but says his client is innocent:
“This was an accident but Mr. Benchop is not responsible and the responsible party will be held accountable”
Grey says Benachop has been in the business for more than 13 years. Records show Benschop had been arrested 11 times prior to this incident, including a conviction for possession and dealing drugs, but Grey says that has nothing to do with his ability to operate an excavator:
“This is not about drugs. It’s not about drug usage. It has nothing to do about prior convictions. It had nothing to do with this accident.”
Benschop is expected to be charged with six counts of involuntary manslaughter, 13-counts of recklessly endangering another person, and one count of risking a catastrophe. He invoked his fifth amendment rights and did not make a statement to police. Benschop now awaits arraignment.
Mayor Nutter issued the following statement on Saturday:
“Sean Benschop finally turned himself in to authorities today. It is because of his reckless and irresponsible behavior that six people died and thirteen people were hurt and buried under debris and bricks.
Our hearts are still hurting over the loss of those six good people, working or shopping at the Salvation Army Thrift Store, trying to ‘do good’. We continue to pray for the physical and mental recovery of the thirteen survivors.
It is my hope that the harshest level of charges are brought against Sean Benschop and he is punished accordingly. We must also seek answers from property owners Richard Basciano and Griffin T. Campbell who hired Benschop to do the significant job of operating heavy equipment. These three individuals bear the ultimate and sole responsibility for this tragedy. Justice will only be served if Sean Benschop receives a sentence that buries him in a jailhouse forever, just like his victims were buried on Wednesday.
Let us keep all the families affected by this horrific event in our thoughts and prayers, and never forget what happened that day.”