By Steve Tawa
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Philadelphia district attorney announced today that he is convening a grand jury to investigate last week’s building collapse in Center City that killed six people and injured 13.
DA Seth Williams began his briefing by extending condolences to the families and friends of the victims, then said he will convene an investigating grand jury to look into the deadly building collapse, including what role the City of Philadelphia may have played.
“The grand jury will investigate any and all participants, including the city, the contractor, the owner of the building, this person in the Municipal Services Building or that person at City Hall,” the DA said.
Williams says the grand jury will have the power to subpoena witnesses and documents, sift evidence, and then “determine if anyone, other than the excavator operator, Sean Benschop, should be held criminally responsible.”
Benschop was working for the contractor, Griffin Campbell, who was hired by property owner Richard Basciano.
Blood tests on Benschop detected the presence marijuana (see related story).
“He was under the influence of a controlled substance; he was too impaired to safely operate that crane,” Jennifer Selber, chief of the DA’s homicide unit, said today.
Benschop was charged with six counts of involuntary manslaughter, more than a dozen counts of recklessly endangering others, and one count of risking a catastrophe. He surrendered Saturday to face charges. His next court appearance is June 26th.
The center city building was being demolished when it collapsed onto a neighboring Salvation Army Thrift Store on Wednesday, killing two employees and four customers.
The DA’s office normally wouldn’t comment since the grand jury’s process is secret, but today it said some news media were irresponsible for inaccurate reporting on the Benschop matter. He pointed out that some news outlets reported that charges had been filed against Benschop before they actually had been, perhaps causing Benschop to go into hiding for a day and a half.
Since the collapse last Wednesday, lawyers for at least four victims have filed lawsuits.
In addition, the city has announced new efforts to improve standards and enforcement of demolitions in the city, to prevent haphazard and dangerous work.