Crane owner to be charged in 2008 deadly collapse

A large crane lies in this intersection on the Upper East Side after it collapsed in this Friday, May 30, 2008 file photo taken in New York. (AP Photo/Dima Gavrysh, File)

March 6, 2010 6:06:12 AM PST
Sources tell Eyewitness News that the owner of a crane company is expected to be charged with manslaughter on Monday in connection with a deadly collapse on the Upper East Side that killed two people back in May 2008. James Lomma will be charged with the deaths at the collapse at 333 East 91st Street on May 30, 2008. The 200-foot crane collapsed and smashed into an apartment building.

Construction workers Donald Leo and Ramaden Kurtaj were killed when a bad weld failed, causing the collapse.

Leo's father issued a written statement:
"In answer to the question of how I feel about Jimmy Lomma being taken away in handcuffs, I say it's a start and it's about time. It will never bring my son back to his family, but it might finally be the beginning of paying real attention to the safety of workers who risk their lives to feed their families so that other people can line their pockets with money off their high risk construction projects."

Kurtaj's family lives in Kosovo.

Lawyers for Lomma and the company did not immediately respond.

The Manhattan District Attorney's office declined to comment.

The crane snapped and fell apart while workers were building a 32-story condominium building on Manhattan's Upper East Side. The collapse killed the crane operator, Donald C. Leo, 30, and another worker, 27-year-old Ramadan Kurtaj. A third construction worker was seriously hurt, and the plunging crane destroyed a penthouse apartment across the street and sheared balconies off the apartment building.

City and federal investigators have focused on a failed weld on the crane's turntable, which helps the rig swivel and change direction.

The turntable had been removed in May 2007 from another crane because it was cracked; New York Crane & Equipment had a welding company repair it, and then installed it in the crane that collapsed, the company's insurer has said.

New York Crane hired a Chinese company to do the weld despite a warning from the company that its welding wasn't good, according to lawsuits filed by the slain workers' families. The Chinese firm had agreed to do the work for a sixth of the price and twice as fast as an Ohio bidder, according to the ongoing lawsuits.

"My son was killed for one reason and one reason only: greed," Leo's father and fellow crane operator Donald R. Leo said in a statement released Friday by his lawyer, Bernadette Panzella.

The father applauded the expected charges against Lomma. "It might finally be the beginning of paying real attention to the safety of workers who risk their lives to feed their families so that other people can line their pockets with money off their high-risk construction projects," he said.

The May 30, 2008, accident came as city officials were scrambling to step up crane safety in the wake of the crane collapse only months earlier near the United Nations.

In that disaster, a 19-story crane fell as it was being lengthened, demolishing a townhouse and killing six construction workers and a tourist on March 15, 2008. That accident was blamed on faulty rigging.

Rigging contractor William Rapetti and his company have been charged with manslaughter in that collapse. A former building inspector, Edward Marquette, faces charges including tampering with public records after being accused of lying about examining the crane 11 days before it collapsed. They have pleaded not guilty.

Since the crane collapses, the Buildings Department has increased training requirements for crane operators and inspectors, expanded inspectors' checklists from 35 items to more than 200, and required engineers sign off on rigging plans, among other steps.

While more than 20 of the tall rigs known as tower cranes are currently at work around the city, "all of these cranes have been subject to our increased requirements," agency spokesman Tony Sclafani said Friday.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which also has been looking into the May 2008 collapse, couldn't immediately provide an update Friday on the status of its probe.

(the associated press contributed to this report)