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Expert: architect overseeing demolition displayed 'wanton disregard for public safety'

The architect overseeing demolition of the building in the deadly 2013 Center City collapse "displayed a wanton disregard for public safety," an architect told a Philadelphia jury Monday.

The architect overseeing demolition of the building in the deadly 2013 Center City collapse "displayed a wanton disregard for public safety," an architect told a Philadelphia jury Monday.

Philadelphia architect Robert H. Henderson also criticized Plato A. Marinakos Jr.'s work as "owner's representative" for New York real estate speculator Richard Basciano and his STB Investments Corp. on the demolition of the vacant Hoagie City building as "deceitful and leaning toward fraud."

Henderson, a principal in the Center City firm of Keating Consulting, was the second witness and second expert called by lawyers defending Basciano and STB.

The Common Pleas Court civil trial of lawsuits filed in the collapse that crushed a Salvation Army thrift store, killing six and injuring 13, one of whom later died, entered its eighth week.

Henderson's testimony made clear the Basciano defense strategy of shifting blame to Marinakos, 50, a Center City architect hired to oversee razing of the four-story Hoagie City building.

On the morning of June 5, 2013, an unsupported three- to four-story wall remaining from the building toppled and destroyed the one-story thrift store at 22nd and Market Streets.

Questioned by defense lawyer Thomas A. Sprague, Henderson - whose projects include the SugarHouse Casino - was unsparingly critical of Marinakos.

Henderson focused on two areas: Marinakos' recommendation of North Philadelphia contractor Griffin Campbell to STB for the demolition contract, and disregard for public safety.

Citing depositions and other trial documents, Henderson told the jury Marinakos never told Basciano or his top aide, Thomas Simmonds, that neither he nor Campbell had experience demolishing a multistory commercial building.

"If you believe what Mr. Campbell had to say about the nature of what happened, I believe the bids for demolition were rigged," Henderson said.

Campbell testified that Marinakos himself prepared Campbell's bid for the demolition and told him not to worry because he would get the contract.

Henderson cited deposition testimony from two other contractors Marinakos said he obtained bids from before recommending Campbell. Both said they never submitted formal bids on the project.

Henderson testified that Marinakos ignored the danger to the public of a collapse, citing Marinakos' own testimony about visiting the demolition site about 6:30 p.m. June 4, 2013.

Marinakos said he saw the unbraced wall and called Campbell. He called the wall "crazy and dangerous," and ordered Campbell to take it down by morning. Campbell has testified that Marinakos never made that call and that taking the wall down overnight would have been impossible.

Regardless, Marinakos said he never told Basciano or Simmonds about the dangerous wall and did not contact city authorities or the Salvation Army about the potential for a collapse.

"He decided not to let the owner know," Henderson told the jury. "His first duty was to the owner, and there's no excuse.

"Then he should have alerted anybody - emergency services, the city, the firehouse down the street - to take action," Henderson added.

In cross-examining Henderson, plaintiffs' lawyers emphasized the duty Basciano, Simmonds, and STB had to do "due diligence" researching Marinakos' and Campbell's qualifications rather than relying solely on the architect's word.

Lawyer Jeffrey P. Goodman cited a series of what he called "red flags" in Marinakos' conduct that deserved firing by STB.

"At no point was he terminated," Goodman said.

"As far as I know, they were pleased with what he was doing," Henderson replied.

"He should have been fired," Goodman said.

"I don't agree," Henderson added.

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