Thursday, March 13, 2008

Construction Worker Killed as Wall Collapses in Brooklyn

A construction worker digging a foundation in Brooklyn was killed on Wednesday when part of a wall from the building next door collapsed on him.

The 30-year-old worker, whose name was not released, was pronounced dead at Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center. Another worker, who was also injured in the collapse, refused treatment.

The city Buildings Department said the accident occurred about 10 a.m. when workers were digging the foundation for a commercial building at 791 Glenmore Avenue in East New York and undermined the wall next door.

The wall should have been shored up, said the buildings commissioner, Patricia J. Lancaster, who visited the site. She added that there was “evidence of shoddy work conditions” and that the department had issued a stop-work order.

“This work should not have been going on here this morning,” Ms. Lancaster said.

The site, at Shepherd Avenue, had been excavated about 8 to 9 feet deep, stretching below the ground floor of the adjacent residential building, where an extended family of seven lived in apartments.

The part of the building’s outer wall that collapsed spilled rubble into the pit, leaving a ragged hole that exposed pipes, wiring and some of the interior of an apartment: a closet, drinking glasses and an aquarium.

The three people inside the residential building, 795 Glenmore Avenue, escaped unhurt, but they and the rest of their family were left homeless, and said the Red Cross was providing shelter. In the afternoon, the authorities pulled down the rest of the building, which is owned by William Lattarulo, who also owns the site under construction.

Before then, officials retrieved belongings, including bags of clothes, two plastic cases filled with documents, photo albums, a laptop and a portrait of one of the women who lived there.

That woman, Joan Michelle Fresse, 46, said she was in her apartment on the second floor when the wall started cracking.

“I grabbed my coat, I went to get my mother and the front door was jammed,” she said. The two women and Charles Triola, Ms. Fresse’s brother, escaped through the back door.

Another brother, Michael Delaro, 36, a medical equipment technician, said he was away from home when he learned of the accident. He said the workers started digging in the lot about a month ago. He and other family members became irate when they learned their home would be taken down, and some started crying when it happened.

“If I’m going to be homeless, he should be, too,” Mr. Delaro said, referring to the landlord.

Mr. Triola added, “They could have shored up the wall, but they didn’t because it’s a poor neighborhood.”

Ms. Lancaster said that the permits for a construction fence, a new building, and underpinning and shoring had expired earlier this month. She said that there were no violations or complaints against the owner, but that the architect, engineer and contractors faced fines and censure.

The Buildings Department said in a statement that the two workers were “reportedly” employed by Greenleaf Construction. Eight violations are being issued against the contractor, the department said. Santosh Nath, a supervisor who answered the phone at Greenleaf, referred all calls to Mr. Lattarulo, the owner of the work site and of the house next door.

Mr. Lattarulo said in a telephone call that he was sorry about the accident, which he called a “cave-in,” and that he had no further comment.

The department said it expected to issue violations against the engineer, Louis Sanchez, of Sanchez Associates. A message left at his office was not returned on Wednesday.

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