City: Inspector faked crane site paperwork

Say the failure to inspect did not trigger deadly accident
March 20, 2008 6:23:29 PM PDT
A New York City buildings inspector is accused of falsely claiming he inspected that crane that collapsed on the East Side, killing seven people. Now he is facing charges.His arrest was announced at a news conference Thursday afternoon by Buildings Department Commissioner Patricia Lancaster.

At the news conference, city officials said that inspector Edward Marquette admitted to the Department of Investigation that he did not inspect the crane, although he claimed to have done so on March 4, days before the deadly collapse.

He was charged with falsifying a business record and offering a false record.

Lancaster said that Marquette made false statements on his route sheet for that day, and that he has admitted that he lied when he said he'd visited the site after a telephone complaint was filed about the site.

He was suspended and reinspections were ordered of all the buildings Marquette has inspected.

It was a stunning announcement that came five days after one of the worst construction accidents the city has ever seen. But what does the arrest have to do with the accident itself? City leaders said today they don't think it has anything to do with it at all, actually.

"At this time, we think it is highly unlikely that this lack of inspection caused, or was in any way remotely associated with the accident," Lancaster said. "We believe, at this time, that the accident was caused during the jumping operation and was due to mechanical failure or human error."

But tell that to people around the Turtle Bay area, who were concerned about this project for weeks.

The complaint that prompted the city to tell inspector Marquette to investigate the site was filed by a retired contractor wh lives nearby, Bruce Silberblatt.

Silberblatt, vice president of the Turtle Bay Neighborhood Association, called the Buildings Department and said he had been concerned for days about the lack of braces securing the crane at a construction site near his United Nations Plaza home.

"Crane does not appear to be braced to the building," reads the report of Silberblatt's complaint. "Only tie backs on five or six floors, but upper part, which is 100 feet up, is unsecured."

The department told Marquette to visit the site later that day, records show. Two days later, the agency ruled that no violations were warranted.

"Crane is erected according to approved" code, reads a note on the Buildings Department Web site.

The city says an inspection of the crane that was conducted on March 14 by another employee was properly performed. That was one day before the collapse.

Meanwhile, residents of several buildings in the area that had been evacuated are now back in their homes. Authorities also confirm that they are investigating at least one claim of theft from a vacated apartment. The victim says cash and jewelry were stolen and the apartment was ransacked upon the resident's return.

As for the investigation, officials say the prime suspect in the collapse is a $50 piece of nylon that broke while lifting a six ton piece of steel.

That nylon webbing was found still attached to the collar, and it could mean the disaster was set-off by this crucial piece of equipment.

Lancaster ordered an immediate sweep of the 250 cranes now in operation across New York City. The concern is that the equipment and procedures in use may not be up to the job.

Six construction workers and a woman from Miami, in town for St. Patrick's Day were killed Saturday when the 19-story crane broke away from an apartment tower under construction and toppled like a tree onto buildings as far as a block away. The last three bodies were found Monday.

Four of the workers killed in the accident were identified as 51-year-old Wayne Bleidner, of Pelham; 54-year-old Brad Cohen, of Farmingdale; 39-year-old Anthony Mazza, and 45-year-old Aaron Stephens, both of New York City. The fifth worker, recovered Monday morning, was identified as 37-year-old Santino Gallone, of Huntington Station. Police in the Miami suburb of Hialeah confirmed the woman found Monday was 28-year-old Odin Torres, but New York officials had not yet identified the bodies of the woman and a sixth worker found later Monday.