Friday 25 May 2018

Building fall worker comes forward

Sean Benschop is accused of being high on marijuana when a building collapsed, killing six people (AP/Philadelphia Police Department)
Sean Benschop is accused of being high on marijuana when a building collapsed, killing six people (AP/Philadelphia Police Department)

A heavy equipment operator with a lengthy criminal record accused of being high on marijuana when a building in Philadelphia collapsed on to a charity shop, killing six people, has given himself up to police.

Sean Benschop faces six charges of involuntary manslaughter, 13 counts of recklessly endangering another person and one count of risking a catastrophe. A warrant had been issued for his arrest and police were searching for him.

Authorities believe the Benschop, 42, had been using an excavator on Wednesday when the remains of the four-storey building gave way and toppled on to an attached Salvation Army shop, killing two employees and four customers and injuring 13 others.

Deputy mayor Everett Gillison said a toxicology report showed evidence that Benschop was high on marijuana. That finding, combined with witness statements and evidence from the scene, led to the decision on Friday to raid his home and later seek an arrest warrant, he said.

Benschop's lawyer, Daine Grey, said his client was not at fault. "This was an accident, but Mr Benschop is not responsible," Mr Grey said. "And we believe that, in time, the facts will show that he is not responsible."

Benschop was wearing a bandage on his right arm when he turned himself in. Mr Grey said he had been injured at a prior workplace, but declined to say where or when.

Mr Grey said Benschop was able to operate heavy equipment.

"He was completely able to operate a backhoe (digger)," he said. " ... He operated it safely, as he always does, and he did not violate the law in any capacity. He has been doing this for more than 13 years. He is very experienced. He has worked for a number of contractors throughout the region. All of the contractors have found him professional and found that he did his work with the highest regard for the safety of those around him."

Philadelpia mayor Michael Nutter said : "It is my hope that the harshest level of charges are brought against Sean Benschop and he is punished accordingly. We must also seek answers from property owners Richard Basciano and Griffin Campbell who hired Benschop to do the significant job of operating heavy equipment.

"These three individuals bear the ultimate and sole responsibility for this tragedy. Justice will only be served if Sean Benschop receives a sentence that buries him in a jailhouse forever, just like his victims were buried on Wednesday."

Press Association

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