Charges filed in Philly building collapse

| Friday, June 7, 2013, 8:45 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA — A felon who was allegedly high while operating demolition equipment when a downtown building collapsed and killed six people will be charged with involuntary manslaughter, a top city official said Friday.

Sean Benschop, 42, faces six manslaughter counts along with six counts of risking a catastrophe, six counts of reckless endangerment and other charges, Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison told the Associated Press.

Authorities believe Benschop had been using an excavator Wednesday when what was left of the four-story building gave way and fell on top of a neighboring Salvation Army thrift store, killing two employees and four customers, and injuring 13 others.

A toxicology report showed “evidence that he was high” on marijuana, Gillison said. That finding, combined with witness statements and evidence from the scene, led to the decision Friday to raid his North Philadelphia home and later seek an arrest warrant, he said.

“The DA has approved it (his arrest), and my police officers are out looking for him as we speak,” said Gillison, the deputy mayor for public safety.

Benschop, who also goes by the name Kary Roberts, has been arrested at least 11 times since 1994 on charges ranging from drugs to theft to weapons possession, according to court records. He was twice sentenced to prison in the 1990s for his convictions on drug trafficking charges. Benschop's last arrest, for aggravated assault, occurred in January 2012, but the case was dismissed for lack of evidence.

Benschop did not return phone messages left at numbers listed in his name, though he told The Philadelphia Inquirer on Thursday that he couldn't comment because of the investigation.

When a local NBC station asked neighbors about Benschop, they said that they hadn't seen him for some time.

The victims include a pair of 24-year-old artist friends shopping at the store and a newly engaged woman working her first day there.

Video shot of the scene days before the fatal collapse show bricks falling onto a sidewalk, which remained open to pedestrians, as a worker used heavy equipment to take out a front wall.

Some blame has been lobbed at demolition contractor Griffin Campbell, whose background includes arrests for drugs, assault and insurance fraud, along with two bankruptcy filings. He was being paid $10,000 for the job, according to the demolition permit.

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