The master rigger of a 200-ft-high tower crane that collapsed at a midtown Manhattan construction site last March, killing seven workers and civilians, was indicted Jan. 5 on multiple charges of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, assault and reckless endangerment. Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau also said that rigger William Rapetti, 48 and his firm Rapetti Rigging Services Inc., Massapequa, N.Y., failed to file tax returns.

Photo: Debra K. Rubin/ENR
District Attorney Robert Morgenthau announces indictment of tower crane rigger while Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn (left) noted stricter city crane safety rules.

Following his arraignment, also on Jan. 5, Rapetti faces a total of up to 27 years in prison, says Morgenthau. Officials say he voluntarily surrendered but posted his own bail.

Morgenthau says Rapetti had been supervising a rigging crew at the highrise apartment construction site that was in the process of "jumping" the crane from the building's 18th floor. He was licensed by the city's Buildings Dept. to supervise crane jumps and was a member of Local 14 of the operating engineers' union.

Morgenthau contends, however, that during the process, four nylon slings used to secure the crane's six-ton steel collar around its mast at the 18th floor location "abruptly snapped." This caused the collar to crash into lower-floor collars, destabilizing the crane and causing it to collapse and crash into an adjacent apartment building. The accident caused the deaths of the crane operator, five members of the rigging crew and a building resident.

Rapetti was fined $220,000 by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration last September, receiving three "willful" safety violations.

Morgenthau says that Rapetti's "reckless and negligent rigging practices" caused the slings to fail and the crane to collapse. He claims that in using four slings for the jump, he failed to follow the crane manufacturer's specifications that called for twice that number. He also claims that Rapetti "was offered new slings to use, but rejected them."

However, Peter Stroh, president of Stroh Engineering Services P.C., the tower crane's West Babylon, N.Y., installation engineer, claims that the four slings were rated to lift more than 5,000 lb each. The collar weighed 12,000 lb. He also claims that "the slings were brand new for that job." Stroh adds that prosecutors' investigations of the slings have not determined why two of them failed in the middle. The others failed at their choke point.

Arthur Aidala, an attorney for Rapetti, could not be reached for comment, but according to published reports, he says that the master rigger is innocent of the charges and is assisting in the crane collapse investigation.

Stroh claims that Rapetti knew all of the dead construction crew workers and is a "standup guy." He also claims that the project was "ahead of schedule" and that Rapetti had directed workers to discard two substandard slings during the crane jump process.

Rose Gill Hearn, the city's investigations department commissioner, noted that in September the city mandated new crane safety rules. They include requiring crane installation engineers of record to file plans with the city Buildings Dept. for all tower crane jumping and dismantling operations. Said Hearn: "2008 will be remembered as the year when New Yorkers came to regard the giant cranes marking our skyline with some fear and trepidation."