4 Indicted on Manslaughter Charges In Deutsche Tragedy

Three supervisors, contractor face other charges

Three construction supervisors and a subcontractor have been indicted on manslaughter charges in the 2007 deaths of two firefighters at a skyscraper at ground zero, capping a complex 16-month investigation that exposed numerous failures by city officials.

The people charged include two senior officials at subcontractor John Galt Corp. and a manager with general contractor Bovis Lend Lease, the Manhattan District Attorney's office said. The Galt company is also being charged. They are all charged with manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment.

Lawyers for Galt and two of the officials named in the indictment didn't immediately return messages seeking comment Monday.

The city had acknowledged failing to inspect the building for fire hazards, but was not charged in the deaths. Prosecutors reached an agreement with the city and Bovis Lend Lease that require them to institute major safety measures.

Prosecutors said that the investigation concluded that breakdowns by the Fire Department and Department of Buildings "contributed to the conditions that led to the deaths" of the firefighters.

Firefighters Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino were found dead of smoke inhalation in the former Deutsche Bank tower, a building heavily damaged in the Sept. 11 attacks. The tragedy demonstrated a series of failures at the project, including no standpipe to supply water to the upper floors.

Joseph Graffagnino Sr., the father of one of the victims, said Monday the results of the probe "wasted a lot of taxpayers' time and a lot of taxpayers' dollars."

"The city seems to go after the little guys. They could have done this from the second day after the fire," the elder Graffagnino said. "Why wait (16) months just to go indict the John Galt Company?"

The indictment ends a 16-month probe into the fire at the condemned, black-shrouded skyscraper that was heavily damaged in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. John Galt Corp. was a subcontractor hired by Bovis and the building's owner, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., to remove toxic debris from the building and take it down floor by floor. The 41-story tower had been dismantled to 26 stories before the fire, and still stands that tall just across from the World Trade Center site.

Prosecutors said that it was an extraordinarily complicated investigation. They interviewed more than 150 people, examined more than 3 million documents and presented 80 witnesses to the grand jury. The transcript of the testimony is 6,500 pages long.

The defendants are Jeffrey Melofchik, the site safety manager for Bovis; Mitchel Alvo, director of abatement for John Galt; and Salvatore DePaola, a Galt foreman. The penalty for second-degree manslaughter is five to 15 years in prison.

A primary focus of the investigation was the numerous hazards at the tower: The pipe supplying water to fire hoses was broken and the sprinklers didn't work, stairwells were blocked with plywood paneling meant to keep toxic debris in, no working elevator existed inside the building, and an air pressure system created more smoke.

A construction worker's carelessly tossed cigarette caused the fire, but investigators had spent much of the time investigating who was responsible for the maze of fire hazards in the building that hampered firefighters' efforts in the tower. They included the cut standpipe, blocked stairwells, thick plastic sheeting to cover toxic debris that trapped smoke in the building and a negative air pressure system that pushed flames down toward the firefighters.

The Fire Department -- which had a firehouse next door -- acknowledged it hadn't regularly inspected the building, as city law requires, for more than a year. Other city and state regulators had also been in the tower on a near-daily basis, but didn't report the hazards.

The city and the state-controlled LMDC have spent millions on criminal defense attorneys during the prosecutor's investigation, which brought officials including Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta and former Buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster before a grand jury,.

The former bank building's demolition was put on hold for about a year because of the blaze. The building's removal has been stalled previously by the discovery of hundreds of Sept. 11 victims' body parts left in the building and other accidents, one that sent a pipe through the roof of the neighboring firehouse.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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