Father of crane worker killed testifies in NYC

A construction crane collapsed on New York's Upper East Side early Friday morning.

February 22, 2012 4:08:50 PM PST
Donald R. Leo was getting ready to climb up to his job as a crane operator when a coworker told him another rig had collapsed at a different construction site - the one where Leo's son was working as a crane operator, too.

Leo ran most of the three miles to the place where he would see his fatally wounded 30-year-old son, Donald C. Leo, being pulled from the wreckage of a crane the father had briefly operated himself about a month earlier, he recalled in court Wednesday.

"It was horrific," Leo said after testifying at crane owner James Lomma's manslaughter trial in the May 2008 disaster, which killed Leo's son and sewer company worker Ramadan Kurtaj, 27. A third worker, Simeon Alexis, was seriously hurt.

Prosecutors say the top portions of the 200-foot-tall crane snapped off, slammed into a nearby building and fell to the ground because Lomma had pinched pennies in repairing a key part of the crane - its turntable, the part that lets the upper arm swivel.

Lomma's lawyers say he did a responsible job of getting the turntable replaced and inspected, and it didn't cause the collapse. Instead, they say, workers overrode or ignored a safety device and lifted the crane arm too high, causing a quick chain of events that destabilized it.

The elder Leo had operated that same crane himself for a few days some weeks earlier, filling in while his soon-to-be-married son was away for a bachelor party. The father said the safety device was working when he was there, and neither he nor his son had had any significant problems with the rig.

When he got to the accident site, his elder son was still in the crane's fallen cab, the father recalled. He watched as rescuers cut his son free, put him on a gurney and wheeled it through the debris to the street.

"To me, he looked like he was still shaking, like he was still breathing," the stricken father, a longtime firefighter before his 20-year crane career, said on the witness stand.

But then the rescuers covered his son with a sheet.

"I was leaning over and talking to him," but then realized he was gone, Leo said after court.

Lomma and his companies, New York Crane & Equipment Corp. and J.F. Lomma Inc., have pleaded not guilty. If convicted, Lomma could face up to 15 years in prison.

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