Philadelphia – A heavy equipment crane operator is in custody and is expected to be charged with the collapse of the Salvation Army building and six related deaths.
Sean Benschop is accused of being high on marijuana while operating an excavator to bring down the building attached to the Salvation Army, on last Wednesday. When the remaining walls of the four story building gave way, they collapsed on the Salvation Army Thrift store killing two employees, four customers, and injuring 13 others.
According to Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison, toxicology reports revealed that Benschop was under the influence of marijuana.
Benschop faces six counts of involuntary manslaughter 13 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of risking a catastrophe. He turned himself in to police and is awaiting arraignment on these charges.
According to Benschop’s attorney, Diane Grey, the destruction of the Salvation Army building was an accident and he is not responsible. She said he was able to operate the heavy equipment and did it safely without violating any laws.
“He has been doing this for more than 13 years. He is very experienced. He has worked for a number of contractors throughout the region. All of the contractors have found him professional and found that he did his work with the highest regard for the safety of those around him.”
Mayor Michael Nutter made a statement asking for severe punishment to the fullest degree of the law.
“It is my hope that the harshest level of charges are brought against Sean Benschop and he is punished accordingly,” Nutter said. “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.”
According to court records, Benschop also goes by the name Kary Roberts. Since 1994, he has been arrested 11 times for various violations including drug and weapon charges. He was sentenced to prison two times for drug trafficking. His last arrest was in January 2012, for aggravated assault but it was dismissed for lack of evidence.
As word spread about the pending criminal investigation, two of the survivors filed claims against the demolition contractor and the owner, alleging gross negligence at the job site. The demolition contractor is accused of violating federal safety regulations. The building owner, Richard Basciano, is accused of selecting an incompetent contractor.
One of the plaintiffs, Linda Bell, was shopping when the building collapsed, forcing her to fall into the basement. It took rescue workers an hour to get to her because of the rubble.
According to construction engineers, at the critical phase of the demolition, with the buildings being next door, the Salvation Army should have been evacuated.
The fate of the crane operator, who has been arrested in the collapse of a building that caused six deaths, will be in the hands of a jury.
By: Veverly Edwards