Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Mayor pledges full investigation after 6 die in building collapse

Mary Simpson was killed in the building collapse Wednesday, June 5, 2013.
Mary Simpson was killed in the building collapse Wednesday, June 5, 2013.Read more

Update: 6:55 p.m.

The six people killed in Wednesday's collapse of two Center City buildings were identified by the city this afternoon along with the other 13 people injured.

Those who died in the collapse are Kimberly Finnegan, Borbor Davis, Juanita Harmin, Mary Simpson, Anne Bryan and Roseline Conteh. All were killed inside the Salvation Army store at the corner of 22nd and Market streets.

The 13 people pulled alive from the rubble are Susan Randall, Betty Brown, Shirley Ball, Linda Bell, Jennifer Reynolds, Nadine White, Margarita Agosta, Richard Stasiorowski, Rosemary Kreutzberg, Rodney Geddis, Felicia Hill, Daniel Johnson and Myra Plekan.

Kimberly J. Finnegan, of Bucks County, was first identified earlier this afternoon by a memorial at the Market Street site that included several photographs of the 35-year-old. She reportedly began her first shift of work at the thrift shop on the corner of 22nd and Market streets that morning.

Finnegan's body was pulled from the rubble Wednesday at about 2 p.m., about three hours after a massive wall separating an adjacent four-story building on Market St. came crumbling down on the store during a permitted demolition project.

Borbor Davis, 68, of Upper Darby, was last seen working inside the store's basement, the Inquirer reported.

Anne Bryan, 24, was a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the school and her family said in a statement. Her mother is Philadelphia City Treasurer Nancy Winkler, according to the city.

Her family said in the statement that "Anne was a brilliant and caring young woman just entering the prime of her life."

Bryan was shopping at the thrift store when it was crushed in the massive construction accident.

The bodies of all six killed were recovered in the store.

Philadelphia Mayor Nutter this morning pledged a "wide-ranging" investigation into the collapse that left five women and one man dead, and injured more than a dozen others.

Nutter lauded the efforts of several citizen heroes who rushed into the cloud of dust and debris moments after the collapse to help pull people from the disaster.

"Reports yesterday identified a number of individuals who took quick action, including Jordan McLauglin, Ray Kauffman, Bill Roam, Patrick Glynn and Brian Mullins. On behalf of the City, I want to thank them for their quick thinking and courage," Nutter said.

Questions remain about the inspection and permitting for the demolition that is believed to have triggered the buildings' collapse.

The search-and rescue operation came to an end Thursday afternoon, fire officials said. By 4 p.m., the former thrift store was completely torn down. Part of the neighboring four-story building still stood, though crews knocked down part of that building's walls and walls of the donation center at the back of the thrift store.

Licenses and Inspections Commissioner Carlton Williams said that no one from his department had been required to visit the site since an inspector visited on May 14.  That inspector was responding to a complaint about ongoing demolition at a neighboring property that was being razed.

The adjacent four-story building at 2136 Market Street - which toppled Wednesday - was in line for demolition but was still standing when the inspector was there. Williams said the inspector found no violations concerning the razed buildings, and in checking on 2136 found it was still fully intact.

Williams said the city requires that a site be inspected prior to demolition, then again when the process begins to disturb the ground. Apparently, inspections aren't mandated by the city at the start or even mid-point of demolition.

John Dougherty, head of Local 98 of the electrical workers' union in Philadelphia, said his group had been concerned in recent years with similar demolition sites and the city's process. He called the collapse, "a sad metaphor" for the city's oversight of the construction process.

"This isn't a union/nonunion issue," Dougherty said. "It's a human/nonhuman issue. I used to scream at the top of my lungs that we're losing taxes. Now we're losing people."

City officials meanwhile were busy grappling with the Wednesday's tragic events. Piles and piles of debris remained this morning, and surrounding roads were still blocked, disrupting rush-hour traffic. Roads between Chestnut and Arch Streets were also closed.

The collapse occurred as shoppers filled the Salvation Army thrift store, unaware that an excavation crew ripping down walls at the gutted building next door was reportedly about to yank a beam with heavy machinery.

Block and brick toppled without warning like a Lego set smacked by an angry child, Wood framing snapped like kindling. Tons of debris fell on the store, where some shoppers were browsing, at 10:40 a.m.

Bystanders rushed to help, as the initial call to dispatch came in: Something collapsed. You can't see 20 feet ... We have a possible seven civilians trapped.

Rescue and emergency crews worked at the collapse site at 21st and Market Streets into the night, helping usher 13 people to three area hospitals and ultimately recovering six bodies.

Then, to the stunned delight of hundreds gathered at the scene, a 14th survivor was pulled from the wreckage - 61-year-old Myra Plekam. Her rescue came just before midnight - more than 13 hours after the collapse. Plekam was awake and talking to rescuers, before she was taken to a hospital in critical condition.

"That person being pulled out alive is what heavy rescue is all about," Fire Commissioner LLoyd Ayers said.

City officials said they have not yet determined what went wrong.

Yesterday's events unfolded as workers for Griffin Campbell Construction at 1236 and 1238 Market Street were demolishing what was a commercial storefront that shared a wall with a four-story building.  The Salvation Army story is next door and shared a wall.

Those who live, work and shop in the area had watched with trepidation as workers used heavy machinery on the walls, wondering how it was possible to demolish a building while it was still attached to the functioning, and thriving, Salvation Army building.

David Steinbrink, a marketing executive, was at a business meeting directly across the street from the site. He left the meeting and was standing outside, watching the demolition just before the collapse.

"As I stood there and watched, I wondered how he was going to demolish the building without damaging or having debris fall onto the attached Salvation Army building," Steinbrink said in an email. "I guess I was right."

Steinbrink said the operator of the equipment, "was knocking walls and floors down by swinging the large bucket against whatever was left standing."

Indeed, the tragedy began with sounds of the buildings crashing down at 10:43 a.m., which one witness described as "a freight train," when demolition of a four-story structure attached to the Salvation Army thrift shop at 2140 Market Street went horribly wrong.

Twelve people were initially taken to city hospitals after firefighters arrived at 10:45 a.m. A 66-year-old woman was rescued about two hours later.

The building undergoing "active demolition" had up-to-date permits for the work, said L&I's Williams. Griffin Campbell Construction received permits for the work in February.

Griffin T. Campbell, owner of the company, has a criminal record, according to accounts in the Inquirer and Daily News.  His crew was working for the property owner, identified as STB Investments of New York City. STB's principal is Richard Basciano, once dubbed "the undisputed king of Times Square porn."

An attorney representing STB issued a statement late last night.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people affected by this tragic event. Please know that we are committed to working with the City of Philadelphia and other authorities to determine what happened today," said the statement released by F. Warren Jacoby, of the Cozen O'Connor law firm.

The collapse raised numerous questions about the permits that were granted for the demolition and any inspections that were carried out by the city.

'This obviously could have been so much worse," Nutter said. He defended Williams, the L&I commissioner, when Williams could not answer any additional questions about the demolition permits and if inspections had been made at the work site.

The mayor also said it was not unusual for demolition work to occur directly next to open commercial properties or residential homes.

"There are demolitions taking place on a daily basis," Nutter said. "So it's not unusual that there would be people in a store or building next to where a demolition is taking place.

The tragedy shook witnesses.

Marc Newell was doing landscaping work on 22nd Street when he heard an "unbelievable rumble."

The noise "was like a freight train," Newall said, adding it was immediately clear that people were trapped inside.

"You could hear the moaning," he said.

Some witnesses to the collapse were visibly distraught.

"The whole building just collapsed and people were stuck in there," said one woman, who was taken from the scene sobbing.

Brian Mullins, 23, was unloading paint at the nearby Mutter Museum when he heard the building fall. He and his coworkers ran toward the building, and pulled six people from the rubble, he said. At least two others remained inside when rescue crews arrived, Mullins said.

One woman was laying under a fallen wall.

"I just wanted to get people out," he said.

He said he tried to keep the people inside the building calm amid chaos in the moments after the collapse.

"The dust was so thick you couldn't see in front of your face," he said.