Authorities have said on Thursday that the veteran building inspector who surveyed a downtown building just weeks before it collapsed and killed 6 people, has apparently committed suicide from shooting himself in the chest.
Ronald Wagenhoffer aged 52, was found with a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his chest in a pickup truck around 9 p.m. Wednesday.
The 16 year city employee with the Department of Licenses and Inspections, had inspected the building on May 14 and had signed off on demolition work underway, after getting complaints about the site from the public, according to Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison.
That was three weeks before the vacant four-story building collapsed onto a neighboring Salvation Army thrift store on June 5. The collapse caused the death of two employees and four customers as well as injuring 13 other people.
Gillison told a new conference that, “With the building collapse a week ago, we have now lost seven lives in connection with this tragedy.” The Deputy Mayor went on to day that Wagenhoffer leaves behind a wife and son. He also said, “This man did nothing wrong. The department did what it was supposed to do.”
According to city officials, Wagenhoffer’s colleagues at the city department were informed of his death Thursday morning. The 52 year-old city employee had started with the Department of Public Property and worked his way up through the ranks to building inspector. Officials also said that he had worked until 3 p.m. Wednesday.
The suicide of the Philadelphia building inspector deeply affected his department head and he said that Wagenhoffer was committed to people’s safety.
In a statement from the department head, Carlton Williams said that Wagenhoffer did everything he could to protect people. Williams added, “We strive to protect our citizens by enforcing the building codes. And that’s what Ron did. He was a dedicated civil servant who loved his job.”
Investigators have reported that a heavy equipment operator with a lengthy rap sheet was high on marijuana when the building collapsed. The operator, Sean Benschop, now faces six counts of involuntary manslaughter, 13 counts of recklessly endangering another person and one count of risking a catastrophe.
Benschop’s attorney has made allegations that his client is being made a scapegoat.
The city’s top prosecutor has convened a grand jury to investigate whether anyone else should face criminal charges in connection with the building’s collapse and the resultant deaths, injuries and damage it caused. A half-dozen survivors have filed lawsuits against the contractor and the building’s owner.
A demolition permit appears to show that contractor Griffin Campbell was to receive $10,000 for the job. The contractors lawyer has said that his client is despondent has added that he is “absolutely not responsible” for the deaths.
On Thursday, after the news of the Wagenhoffer’s death had been released, attorney Kenneth Edelin issued a statement expressing condolences to the families of the inspector and the victims. The statement read, “Our heartfelt condolences go to the family of the inspector. We also continue to pray for the families of those that were lost, and for the health and speedy recovery of those that were injured.
Philadelphia Deputy Mayor released in a statement that he as saddened to hear that building inspector Ronald Wagenhoffer had apparently killed himself, leaving behing his wife and son. No further information was released about the inspectors death apart from the fact that it appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound that killed him.
By Michael Smith