Operator Cited in Queens Crane Collapse

By Jennifer Peltz
|  Wednesday, Jan 30, 2013  |  Updated 3:42 PM EDT
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Chopper: Crane Collapse in Long Island City

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A crane operator and a contractor didn't inspect equipment, failed to take proper precautions and ran the rig unsafely before it collapsed while building a Queens apartment tower and injured seven construction workers, officials said Wednesday.

Crane operator Paul Geer and contractor Cross Country Construction LLC have each been cited with five violations stemming from the Jan. 9 collapse, which occurred as the crane tried to lift more than double its capacity, the city Buildings Department said. Geer and the company each face at least $64,000 in fines; the developer and a site safety manager also were cited with a violation apiece.

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"Neither the crane operator nor his supervisors made sure the operation was being performed according to approved plans," city Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri said in a statement.

No phone number could be found for Geer, and his union didn't immediately return a call seeking comment. Nor did Cross Country Construction.

The collapse was the latest of several accidents that have stirred questions about crane safety in a high-rise city in recent years. Two deadly collapses in 2008 spurred reforms and even criminal charges, but another crane fell and killed a worker in the city just this past April, at a subway construction site largely exempt from city safety rules. In other incidents, cranes have dropped loads or come close to falling apart, including a dramatic episode in which a crane's arm, or boom, nearly snapped off during Superstorm Sandy and dangled precariously over a midtown Manhattan block.

The Jan. 9 collapse in Queens didn't cause any life-threatening injuries, but three workers had to be extricated from beneath fallen machinery after the 170-foot-long boom fell and mowed down part of the building's wooden framework, according to officials and witnesses. The rig was working on what will be a 25-story building near the East River in Long Island City, behind a large neon Pepsi-Cola sign that serves as a local landmark.

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The crane was trying to lift 24,000 pounds — more than twice its limit — and Geer couldn't see what was being lifted, buildings officials said as they suspended his license earlier this month. Geer also was trying to move the materials outside of an approved zone, they said.

Ed Christian, the president of Geer's union, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 14, told the Daily News last week that "there are a multitude of factors that must be explored and investigated."

The developer, TF Cornerstone, and site safety manager Arthur Covelli have been cited with failing to safeguard people and property during construction, a single violation that carries at least $2,400 in fines, officials said.

Buildings Department records showed crane work at the site remained halted Wednesday, but TF Cornerstone said it believed the stop-work order and violation were being resolved. The company has said "site safety is always our first priority."

Covelli wasn't in his office and didn't immediately respond to an email message seeking comment.

The two fatal crane collapses in 2008 came within two months of each other and killed a total of nine people. The accidents prompted the resignation of the city's buildings commissioner and fueled new safety measures, including hiring more inspectors, stiffening testing and licensing requirements and expanding inspection checklists.

The 2008 falls also led to manslaughter cases against the crane rigger in one of the collapses and the crane owner in the other. Both were acquitted.

Meanwhile, former chief city crane inspector James Delayo admitted taking more than $10,000 in payoffs to fake inspection and crane operator licensing exam results. The charges weren't directly tied to the fallen cranes but emerged as authorities looked into the city's inspection regime.

Another crane checker, Edward Marquette, was charged with pretending to have done inspections when he hadn't — including one that collapsed and killed seven people days later in March 2008. He was acquitted this July of all charges related to that crane but convicted of falsifying records of other inspections. He has yet to be sentenced.

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