An architect hired by the Salvation Army to document the condition of its Center City thrift store during demolition of an adjacent building testified Friday that he shredded his notes the week after the deadly June 5, 2013, collapse that destroyed the store.
In an often-heated exchange with plaintiffs' lawyer Robert J. Mongeluzzi, architect Jack Higgins admitted he destroyed 25 pages of field notes he made during a May 20, 2013, visit to the thrift store at 22nd and Market Streets.
Mongeluzzi confronted Higgins with his April 1, 2015, pretrial deposition, saying: "You were asked why you needed to get rid of pieces of paper and you responded, 'I can't speculate on that.' "
Higgins agreed that he had said that, adding that he could not recall why he had destroyed his notes.
He testified that he used the notes to create a handwritten six-page statement of what he saw that day because he would not be able to read his personal shorthand months or years later.
"I thought I was doing something good," Higgins said. "I thought I was taking something illegible and made them legible."
Higgins testified before a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury at the end of the third week of the trial of consolidated lawsuits filed against the Salvation Army and others on behalf of the six people killed and 13 injured.
The trial resumes Tuesday after the Columbus Day holiday.
Higgins' testimony involves a crucial period in the months before the collapse.
On May 10, 2013, Salvation Army officials in West Nyack, N.Y., had a conference call with Thomas Simmonds, property manager for the four-story Hoagie City building owned by New York real estate speculator Richard Basciano and his STB Investments Corp. Basciano and STB also are being sued.
The vacant building was being demolished and was adjacent to the charity's one-story store. Simmonds had sent Salvation Army officials an email the day before, warning of the danger of a possible collapse and pressing the charity for access to the thrift store roof.
The conference call ended with the parties agreeing to hire lawyers and an architect to draft a roof-access agreement that would let demolition workers knock down the Hoagie City wall above the thrift store's roof and ensure the store's safety.
Higgins, of Kunkletown, Monroe County, Pa., was retained by the charity and traveled to Philadelphia on May 20, 2013. He documented in photos the condition of the thrift store, and got a copy of the city's building code so he could learn what responsibilities STB had to protect the store and the public.
Higgins also happened to meet Griffin Campbell, STB's demolition contractor, as he took some photos that included the demolition site.
Mongeluzzi suggested that Higgins had omitted from his six-page report critical details that were in his field notes.
At one point the interplay between lawyer and witness became so heated that Higgins accused Mongeluzzi of "twisting words around" and Mongeluzzi shot back: "You're a liar, are you not?"
"You think this was not a big deal?" Mongeluzzi asked.
"With the limited scope of the work I did, no, I didn't think anybody was going to be interested in my notes," Higgins replied.
Higgins said Salvation Army officials never told of the danger warnings from Simmonds and never asked him to check out whether demolition was ongoing.
Nor did he ask workers in the thrift store if they were worried about what was happening next door.
Higgins also acknowledged that he learned of the June 5, 2013, collapse when he got a call from a structural engineer who knew he did work for the Salvation Army.
"People are going to want to see your file," Higgins said the engineer told him.