Monday, June 2, 2008

Some Construction Is Halted After Fatal Crane Collapse


The construction of several large buildings in Manhattan is likely to be delayed for days, if not weeks, as city officials determine the safety of the tower cranes being used at those sites, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said on Sunday.

The mayor dismissed claims that the Buildings Department has lost its ability to manage construction projects because there are too many of them going on at the same time.

“There are too many accidents, and we’re going to see if we can do more to make sure everything is safe,” the mayor told reporters at the Roosevelt Hotel, where he had joined more than a dozen other elected officials for the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty’s annual legislative breakfast.

“We have a Buildings Department that has many thousands of people, and I think it’s fair to say that they probably have prevented an enormous number of things that could have led to accidents,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

The mayor’s remarks came two days after a crane crashed into a 23-story apartment building at 354 East 91st Street, killing two workers, injuring another, forcing hundreds from their homes and renewing fears that the city’s construction sites are unsafe. In March, seven people were killed when a crane collapsed on East 51st Street.

The City Buildings Department is investigating Friday’s accident. And over the weekend, an official involved in the inquiry said the Rackets Bureau in the office of the Manhattan district attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau, had opened a criminal investigation into whether a part of the crane had been damaged last year and then inappropriately put back into service. The piece in question is a rotating apparatus, or turntable, that connects the operator’s cab and the boom to the crane tower.

About 200 relatives and friends of Donald C. Leo, 30, one of the two workers killed in the accident, were also looking for answers on Sunday as they gathered at the Hanley Funeral Home on Staten Island for his wake. The group included high school buddies, football coaches, neighbors, relatives and co-workers.

Mr. Leo’s fiancĂ©e, Janine Belcastro, arrived flanked by two women, each holding one of her arms. The couple were together for about six years and were set to marry on June 21.

Jay Plachinski, a correction officer who played football with Mr. Leo at New Dorp High School, said Mr. Leo was “the toughest guy I knew, physically and emotionally.”

He added that Mr. Leo worked at the Fresh Kills landfill, on Staten Island, for weeks after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, helping to sort debris from the World Trade Center.

Being a crane operator, Mr. Plachinski said, “was the ultimate blue-collar job, and that’s what Don was: the ultimate blue-collar guy.”

Ms. Belcastro, a slim woman with long blond hair, did not speak to reporters. At one point, she came out of the funeral home with a small group of women, one of whom dabbed her eyes where makeup had been smeared by tears. She sat down on the steps of the funeral home to collect herself before going back inside.

The antechamber of the funeral home was filled with a number of easels covered with photographs of Mr. Leo dating back to his childhood.

Mr. Leo was killed when the Kodiak crane he was operating toppled not long after 8 a.m. on Friday. Another worker, Ramadan Kurtaj, 27, of the Bronx, was also killed.

Robert D. LiMandri, the acting buildings commissioner, issued stop-work orders at the five construction sites where a total of eight Kodiak cranes were being used so fresh inspections, additional testing and a review of repair logs could be completed.

The crane that fell at 335 East 91st Street was dismantled on Saturday. The other seven Kodiak cranes were at 123 Washington Street, 245 10th Avenue, 400 East 67th Street and 808 Columbus Avenue.

Seven of the eight cranes, including the one that fell, are owned by New York Crane and Equipment Corporation.

Investigators were focusing on whether a faulty welding job was done on the turntable of a crane that was removed from a West 46th Street site more than a year ago, officials said. They believed, but were not certain, that that turntable was on the crane that fell on East 91st Street.

In investigating Friday’s accident, officials in the district attorney’s office aimed to determine whether the Buildings Department ordered New York Crane to dispose of the damaged turntable from the West 46th Street crane, if the company was authorized to repair the turntable, whether the work was done correctly, and whether the Buildings Department was required to sign off on the repairs.

Prosecutors have been told that James F. Lomma, the owner of New York Crane, claimed to have documents proving that the Kodiak crane was suitably repaired and tested, but they have not seen repair records yet to corroborate his claims, an official involved in the inquiry said.

“It will take us a while to get to the bottom of all that,” an official said.

Mr. Lomma did not return calls for comment on Sunday.

In all, 45 out of the 169 apartments at 354 East 91st Street were damaged. On Sunday morning, workers removed debris from the penthouse area so part of First Avenue could be reopened to traffic. Residents were being let back into the building to retrieve belongings only when work was halted.

Battalion Chief Greg Bierster, of the Fire Department, said residents would not be allowed to move back in until the sprinkler system was working again. He added that 163 doors were forced open during searches to make sure people were not inside. Those doors would be replaced starting Monday night.


  1. Hey BTC Louie. How about getting on board with your contractors to stop using bad equipment.

    Work safe brothers & Sisters.

    Slow down and go home alive.

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