Criminal prosecution of the owner of a tower crane whose collapse led to the deaths of two New York City construction workers in a 2008 accident will proceed next month. On Sept. 19, a state Supreme Court judge rejected a motion to dismiss negligent homicide charges against James F. Lomma, his former head mechanic and two firms the owner controlled.
Paul Schechtman, attorney for Lomma, says he has made “no final decision” on whether to request a judge or jury trial, but sources close to the case say a jury trial is more likely. Judge J. Thomas Farber ruled against the defendants' motion to dismiss the case or drop criminal charges. They had claimed prosecutors presented “skewed” facts to the grand jury.
In 2010, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. indicted Lomma, 64; his former employee, Tibor Varganyi, 63; and two of Lomma's firms: New York Crane and J.F. Lomma Inc. They face charges of second-degree manslaughter, second-degree assault, criminally negligent homicide and second-degree reckless endangerment. Defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Prosecutors blame Lomma, Varganyi and the firms for the deaths of union crane operator Donald C. Leo and another worker, Ramadan Kurtaj, arguing that the defendants' failure to correct a rotator gear, which snapped, caused the crane to collapse.
“As long as the grand jury could draw inferences of guilt, it does not matter that a trier of fact could draw inferences of innocence,” Farber said. “These will ultimately be questions of fact for a trial jury to resolve.” As set, the trial will follow by just a few months the acquittal of three construction managers in a criminal case also pushed by the prosecutor. That trial was triggered by the deaths of two city firefighters in the 2007 fire at the former Deutsche Bank high-rise, which was being demolished.