No Jail for Mechanic in Deadly Manhattan Crane Collapse

Tibor Varganyi pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide

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    NBCNewYork

    A mechanic was sentenced Tuesday to a year of community service for his role in a construction crane collapse that killed two workers, with their outraged relatives blasting a plea deal that spared jail time for the only person who admitted to a crime in the accident.

    Mechanic Tibor Varganyi — who pleaded guilty and then saw his boss go to trial and end up cleared — apologized to the families of crane operator Donald C. Leo and sewer worker Ramadan Kurtaj.

    "I did not mean to hurt anyone," he said.

    But that was no comfort to the families. In more than 40 minutes of statements urging a judge to depart from the plea agreement and jail Varganyi, they reflected on their loss and called the mechanic as a careless killer.

    "This man is one of the men who was responsible for my son climbing that deathtrap," said Leo's mother, Maria.

    Varganyi arranged what authorities called a penny-pinching, shoddy repair to a crucial component of the 200-foot-tall crane. It snapped apart on Manhattan's Upper East Side in May 2008, a month after the fix — and two months after another crane had fallen and killed seven people in another part of Manhattan.

    The collapses fueled new safety measures in New York and some other cities, and they have generated numerous lawsuits. But criminal trials in both accidents ended in acquittals, making Varganyi the only person held criminally responsible for either one.

    Varganyi, 65, and crane owner James Lomma, 66, were charged with manslaughter in the May 2008 collapse. Varganyi pleaded guilty to the lower charge of criminally negligent homicide. The deal allowed him to avoid jail time if he testified against Lomma.

    At Lomma's trial this spring, Varganyi said he was told the crane owner wanted to save time and money on the repair. After getting estimates from known manufacturers, Varganyi scouted out and Lomma took a cheaper bid from a little-known Chinese company, even after the firm expressed misgivings about handling the job, according to prosecutors and testimony.

    Lomma's lawyers said he had gotten the repair done and tested responsibly, and that other factors caused the collapse.

    Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice Daniel P. Conviser acquitted Lomma of all criminal charges.

    The judge who handled Varganyi's case, Justice Thomas Farber, said he understood the Leo and Kurtaj families' frustrations but would honor the promise made to Varganyi.

    "It's the way our system works," Farber said.

    In March 2008, another crane toppled onto a block near the United Nations headquarters, killing the six workers and a Florida tourist. In that case, a crane rigger was charged with manslaughter. He was acquitted of all counts.

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