Victim's family in Philadelphia building collapse sues store, owner
By The Associated Press
Published: Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, 7:39 p.m.
PHILADELPHIA — The family of an arts school graduate killed in a deadly building demolition while she shopped at a Salvation Army store in Philadelphia filed the first wrongful-death lawsuit Tuesday over the collapse.
The June building collapse in Philadelphia killed six people, including 24-year-old Mary Lea Simpson of suburban Haverford and her childhood friend.
The young women were dropping off clothes and shopping when a high brick wall on an adjacent building left unsupported during demolition collapsed onto the small thrift store, trapping 19 people.
The Simpson family's lawsuit blames the Salvation Army, adjacent building owner Richard Basciano and his demolition contractors, among others, for her death.
“Even a child playing with building blocks should understand that if you pile blocks up in a wall and you don't support it, and you subject it to vibration and movement ... it's going to fall,” family lawyer Steven Wigrizer said.
Wigrizer had previously sued Basciano over the 1997 death of a Philadelphia judge killed when part of a garage collapsed on a sidewalk, securing a multimillion-dollar settlement amid jury selection, he said.
“Now we see outrageously bad decision-making by the same group. So there's a pattern and practice of negligence here,” he said Tuesday.
The lawsuit faults the Salvation Army for keeping the store open amid the demolition, and Basciano and contractors Griffin Campbell and Sean Benschop for crafting a risky plan and starting work before securing permits.
Basciano, once dubbed the porn king of Times Square, was redeveloping a seedy block of Market Street at the edge of Philadelphia's business hub. He and the Salvation Army were feuding over the demolition plan in the months and weeks leading up to the collapse, according to emails released by the city.
Basciano wanted access to the area above the Salvation Army, so he could use a bucket truck to remove the four-story brick wall by hand, as demolition experts recommend. But the negotiations stalled, even as Basciano's lawyers warned of the risk to the public.
The delay “posed a threat to life, limb and public safety,” Basciano's lawyers warned the Salvation Army.
However, an architect for the Salvation Army had found both buildings stable on May 20, and the charity was told no structural demolition would begin until the disputes were resolved, lawyer Eric Weiss said Tuesday. A video shot June 2 shows an excavator being used to tear down part of the building.
“They went in there, didn't tell us, and started knocking things out,” Weiss said.
A criminal grand jury investigation is underway. Benschop, the only person charged to date, is due in court Sept. 17 for a preliminary hearing in his involuntary manslaughter case. His wife has called him a scapegoat. Lawyers for Benschop and Campbell did not immediately return calls for comment Tuesday.
The most seriously injured survivor, 52-year-old Mariya Plekan, filed suit last week over her injuries. She lost both legs after spending nearly 13 hours in the rubble.
The Simpson lawsuit was filed by her brother and executor, George B. Simpson of San Jose, Calif., on behalf of himself and their parents, Dr. Zachary W. Simpson and Starr Harris Simpson of Haverford.
Simpson had graduated from The New England Institute of Art near Boston and was pursuing a career in sound engineering. She had gone to the thrift store with friend Anne Bryan, 24, who was also killed. Bryan was the daughter of the Philadelphia's city treasurer.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Health care law enrollee passwords at risk for Heartbleed Internet security flaw, feds warn
- ‘Patriots’ back Nevada rancher; Reid labels them ‘domestic terrorists’
- Del Taco customers mistakenly charged thousands for fast-food meals
- SpaceX supply ship makes Easter cargo delivery to space station
- Recovery expert believes wreckage of missing plane located
- Fox fires exec who used email to plan aid
- First date in New Jersey ends with him pilfering her TV and Yorkshire terrier
- Records exonerate ‘X-Men’ director, attorney says
- IRS, other agencies award contracts to license plate tracking company
- Mauling puts bears back on firing line in Central Florida
- Washington’s snowy owl recovers from apparent bus crash, returns to wild