Local/State

Remembering 6 killed in Center City Philadelphia collapse

Friday, June 07, 2013

Family and friends remembered the six people who were killed in a building collapse in Center City Philadelphia Wednesday.

Those killed were identified as Kimberly Finnegan, Anne Bryan, Borbor Davis, Juanita Harmon, Mary Simpson and Roseline Conteh.

All died when a building being demolished suddenly collapsed Wednesday morning in the 2100 block of Market Street, burying the Salvation Army Thrift Store in a pile of rubble.

Thirteen people were injured in the collapse. They were identified Thursday by city officials as Susan Randall, Betty Brown, Shirley Ball, Linda Bell, Jennifer Reynolds, Nadine White, Margarita Agosta, Richard Stasiorowski, Rosemary Kreutzberg, Rodney Geddis, Felicia Hill, Daniel Johnson and Myra Plekan.

REMEMBERING THOSE WHO DIED

24-year-old Anne Bryan was the daughter of Philadelphia City Treasurer Nancy Winkler and a 2007 graduate of Penn Charter School.

She was in the thrift shop with her good friend, 24-year-old Mary Simpson. Simpson was a gifted figure skater before graduating in 2007 from Haverford High. She skated for years at the Philadelphia Skating Club in Ardmore.

Bryan was a gifted art student at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

In a statement Bryan's family said, "She was an incredibly kind and loving person, and her death has left a hole in the hearts of all who knew her."

Among the others killed was 75-year-old Juanita Harmon of Wynnefield, the sister of former longtime WDAS personality Charles 'Fuss' Harmon.

Charles Harmon says Juanita loved ornaments, including some she gave his family.

He says his sister had a habit, and that was to go to the Salvation Army Thrift Store at 22nd and Market every Wednesday.

"She loved bargains, and she would catch the subway downtown," he said. "Wednesday was her day to go to that thrift store to get bargains. Her house is full of ornamental things."

Also killed was Roseline Conteh, an immigrant from Sierra Leone in Africa, and 68-year-old Borbor Davis, a worker at the thrift shop who immigrated from Liberia eight years ago.

"Very quiet and kind. He goes to work every day, he never misses a day," said Davis' wife, Maggy.

Action News also spoke with family and friends of 35-year-old Kimberly Finnegan.

"She was a wonderful person, enjoying life," said Heather Sizemore.

Sizemore, a friend of Finnegan's, came to the collapse site to leave flowers and a picture collage showing happier times.

"Our thoughts and our prayers are with her and her family and her fiance and everybody else affected. It just goes to show you don't take things for granted, and love like crazy every day and, you know, smile," she said.

The Salvation Army released the following statement Thursday afternoon:

"We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life of the six individuals who perished in the wake of yesterday's building collapse. The passing of these individuals, including two of our employees, will be felt across our entire organization and throughout the community. We will continue to pray for their families during this time, and for all of those affected. The Salvation Army has been in contact with the families to offer emotional and spiritual support, and is working closely with the Philadelphia Police, Fire and Office of Emergency Management during this critical response to offer assistance in any way we can. We thank the first responders for their efforts in this tragedy, and we do not have any further information to provide as families are asking for privacy at this time."

SEARCH AND RESCUE WRAPS UP

At the collapse site, the nearly 30-hour search and rescue effort wrapped up Thursday afternoon.

There were no more Market Street miracles like the rescue of 61-year-old Myra Plekan found late last night. It was a valiant effort by firefighters who risked their own lives while searching for others.

The fire commissioner said it was an exhaustive and painstaking operation. And multiple investigations are now underway.

"We're in the process of finishing up some of the clearing of the area, and we will be turning over the site to Licenses and Inspections, the Fire Marshal and police," said Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers.

As of late Thursday morning only a small portion remained to be searched. It was a dangerous location toward the back of the site.

Portions of the collapsed building remained teetering over the rear of what had been the Salvation Army Thrift Store.

Before searchers could go in, a demolition crew had to peel away unstable portions of the four-story high walls. Firefighters then moved in to peer into the basement as heavy equipment carefully pulled the remaining debris out of that basement.

After about an hour, the rescue team left the site after finding no evidence of any more victims. The search and rescue operation ended and the cleanup work began.

That wall was the biggest challenge from start to finish.

"We had placed people in positions where they could monitor that wall. But it's still a wall that's been affected by a collapse already. So the biggest thing was trying to keep our people safe but allowing us to work and get to the trapped victims," said Special Operations Chief Craig Murphy.

As the rubble cleared, crime scene investigators began to inspect the site. The top homicide prosecutor in the District Attorney's office also visited.

The collapse could lead to criminal charges.

"We will be turning over the site to L & I, the Fire Marshal's office and police," said Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers.

"It's clear the rules weren't followed," said Robert Mongeluzzi.

Mongeluzzi is a civil attorney hired by one of the survivors, Nadine White. She was trapped in the brick and mortar for 15 minutes.

"She is following up with her doctors, getting appropriate medical treatment to detemine the full exent of her injuries," said attorney Larry Bendeskey

The attorneys say the demolition contractor, Griffin Campbell, should have had a demolition survey performed.

The Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires it on all demolitions over one story.

It's unclear if the company did one. But it's not required by the city to gain a demolition permit.

"Of course at this point we do not know what the demolition contractor prepared," said Mongeluzzi. "But I can assure you of this: they did not prepare engineering survey, or, if one was prepared, they didn't follow it."

THE INJURED

Of the 13 people hurt in the collapse, the most seriously injured was 61-year-old Myra Plekan of Kensington.

She was discovered alive under the rubble late Wednesday night, nearly 13 hours after the collapse.

She was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP), where she remained in critical condition Thursday night.

At the request of her family, Dr. Patrick Kim of HUP's Trauma Department declined to share any of the specifics of her condition.

"Certainly for anyone who is trapped for any amount of time, we are concerned about maintaining their life and doing a very thorough work-up and giving them the best possible care at all times," he said.

Three other victims who spent the night at HUP were released Thursday afternoon, as was one patient who'd been admitted to Hahnemann.

One collapse victim remained at Jefferson in good condition.

ROAD CLOSURES AND THE INVESTIGATION

At a press conference Thursday morning, Mayor Michael Nutter updated the status of road closures due to the collapse.

The perimeter has been reduced to 21st Street to 23rd Street, Market Street to Arch Street, and 22nd Street from Chestnut to Arch.

Nutter said while the building that fell was 2136 Market Street, L&I received a complaint in early May concerning the adjacent structure at 2134 Market Street.

"A few days later an L&I inspector went to the property of 2134 Market Street, found there was no violations at that time. The property 2136 [in the collapse], commonly known as the Hoagie City building, that demolition has not yet started. That building was fully intact, the sign was in place, and no work had been done yet on that particular building," Nutter said.

It remains unclear what role the demolition played into the collapse, but many are questioning how closely the Hoagie City building was being monitored.

Authorities say an inspector was out on the site on May 14th before demolition began, but not since

"When we went out on May 14th, we had no indication there were unsafe conditions. We did not receive any subsequent reports on that project," L&I Commisisoner Carlton Williams said.

Officials from the U.S. Department of Labor and Occupational Safety and Health Administration are also at the scene.

Dan Gillis said he saw the collapse happen, saying "I was working across the street doing windows. They've been working over there for about a week now. It was a 30 foot wall, they started pulling on a piece of steel, and I seen the whole wall just waving back and forth, and as soon as they pulled that out, there was no stopping it."

The collapse brought down part of the thrift store and what looks like converted row homes attached to the back of the building.

According to officials, the active demolition was on a 4-story building by a Philadelphia-based company known as Griffin Campbell Construction. There were no existing violations on the property and the contractor conducting the demolition had a license.

PASSER-BY BECOMES FIRST RESPONDER

High school senior Jordan McLaughlin, of Chestnut Hill, was walking along the 2100 block of Market Street when he saw and heard the building collapse.

"It was like a boom. There was nothing before the collapse. You heard the backhoe hit the wall."

McLaughlin charged into the rubble to pull two injured victims to safety, disregarding his own.

He gave Action News this up-close and personal account.

"When we went into the scene, we said, 'Can you hear us? Can you hear us?' And then we got a response," he said. "I ended up helping get two people."

McLaughlin was not alone in suddenly becoming a first responder. Brian Mullens and Bill Rome were working nearby when they heard the boom and charged into action.

"We ran right around the corner. We saw a couple of people. The roofers who were working upstairs on the roof came running right behind us, and we started digging and pulling people out," said Mullens.

"We actually pulled a couple out of the basement. One of the roofers went down into the basement," said Rome. "The gentleman was very gutsy and went down and started handing people up to us. There was one woman who was trapped who we couldn't get out. She was in a pocket. We were waiting for the rescue people to come and move the stuff properly."

Stay with Action News and 6abc.com as more information becomes available.

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The Associated Press contributed to this article

(Copyright ©2014 WPVI-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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center city, philadelphia, collapse, local/state
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