Fault found, but few held accountable

December 22, 2008 5:01:33 PM PST
A former manager with the John Galt Corporation is accused by the district attorney of dismantling the standpipe that supplied water to the upper floors of the Deutsche Bank building. If convicted of negligent homicide, he faces 15 years in prison.

"I would love to tell it, but now is not the time," Mitchel Alvo replied when we tried to question him.

Alvo and two other managers are the only ones facing charges in the death of the two firefighters, even though the district attorney admits many more are responsible.

"Everybody who could have screwed up, screwed up here," District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said.

Everybody including "high-ranking members" of the fire department, which repeatedly failed to enforce its own regulation to inspect the building every 15 days. How else to explain not seeing a severed standpipe.

There's the buildings department, where inspectors failed somehow to see code violations, such as stairwells and exits blocked by highly flammable foam, plastic and plywood, even though they were on the site nearly everyday.

"What kind of message does it send when all these agencies that had responsibility to ensure safety and security basically didn't fulfill its obligations? What does it say to the public that no one is held accountable," Glen Corbett, associate professor of fire science, said.

The district attorney says his hands were tied because city agencies have immunity from criminal prosecution, but there's the main contractor who ran the $177 million dollar demolition project -- Bovis, one of the biggest builders in the city, responsible for hiring, the shadowy, John Galt Corporation despite its suspected ties to the mob and little demolition experience.

"It doesn't make sense what happened here and why is that the people and organizations that made decisions, such important decisions on who to select and how the process was to take place are not being held accountable," Corbett said.

The district attorney said indicting Bovis would have been a waste of time, leading only to a $10-thousand dollar fine.

"That would have accomplished virtually nothing, but the collateral damage would have been extensive," he said.

Indicting Bovis, the d-a thinks, could have forced the company to layoff workers.

So everyone is at fault, but few are held accountable. Many are left to wonder if those shouldering the blame were just following orders.

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