Wake held for NYC man killed in crane collapse

Safety summit follows crane collapse; Two killed in deadly accident
June 2, 2008 9:51:20 AM PDT
About 200 people gathered at a wake for a man who was killed while operating a massive crane that collapsed in Manhattan. Among them: the crane operator's fiancee. Janine Belcastro, the bride-to-be, joined family and friends who came to remember 30-year-old Donald Leo on Sunday at a Staten Island funeral home. She and Leo had planned to wed in late June.

"We were looking forward to going to the wedding," said Adriana Lusterino in Monday editions of the Daily News. "It's tragic."

Jay Plachinski, a correction officer who knew Leo in high school, told The New York Times in Monday editions that Leo was "the ultimate blue-collar guy."

Belcastro left the funeral without speaking to reporters.

Meanwhile, emergency crews worked Sunday to stabilize a Manhattan apartment building damaged in the crane collapse.

About a dozen residents and others said a short prayer and observed a moment of silence at a vigil Sunday evening for the two men who were killed and those who were hurt and forced from their homes by Friday's accident, the city's second fatal crane collapse in 2½ months.

"It was very scary," Rafi Aharon recalled at the vigil, held about a block from the Upper East Side accident site.

Aharon, 40, said he left his apartment building with his 7-year-old son, Roy, less than a minute before part of the 200-foot crane smashed into the building.

Besides Leo, the crane collapse killed another construction worker and heightened criticism of the city's Department of Buildings, already under fire for a recent series of fatal construction accidents.

The agency said it had begun an investigation into what went wrong, and the probe would include examining the crane parts.

Earlier Sunday, a cherry picker hoisted workers onto the damaged building's top floor to survey the wreckage as tourists and neighborhood residents watched.

Gina and Larry Bliss, who live in the damaged building, had been told they could go in Sunday morning to check on their belongings. But when they got to the police barricade surrounding the accident scene, they were told to come back later.

The Blisses said their 13th-floor apartment was not damaged by the crane, which crushed a penthouse and clawed through the balconies below it.

The Blisses and their two infant daughters moved in a week before the accident and have no plans to leave. "As long as the building's safe, we're going back," Gina Bliss said. "We love the area."

The accident occurred 40 blocks north of the site where another crane collapse killed seven people on March 15.

Developers, labor representatives, crane owners and others attended a closed-door meeting Saturday to discuss construction safety issues.


Another construction worker on the street, outside of the cab, was taken to the hospital in very critical condition. He later died.

The medical examiner's spokeswoman, Ellen Borakove, says the victim was 27-year-old Ramadan Kurtaj.

A third person was in the building, possibly leaving at the time of the collapse. But he was not struck by the crane. He was also in critical condition.

He was being treated at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

The developer of the site, the DeMattias Organization, issued a statement following the accident:

"First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those affected by this terrible tragedy. We are currently in the process of gathering all the facts surrounding this unfortunate accident and will provide more details as they become available."

Reception Center for Evacuated Residents

The City and the American Red Cross have opened a reception center for people who have been evacuated from their homes because of the collapse. The reception center is located at P.S. 198 at 1700 3rd Ave. OEM Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members are assisting the American Red Cross at the reception center.

The American Red Cross is also providing immediate humanitarian aid, including housing, meals and counseling for anyone affected by the crane incident. You can help them help these New Yorkers by donating now at NYRedCross.org or calling 1-877-RedCross.

The City of New York will remain on scene until recovery operations are completed. Updates on road closures, towed vehicles and vacated residential units will continue to be made available through 311 and OEM's Web site at NYC.gov/OEM