But an “unknown, foreign company” from China, RTR, offered to send a replacement in 50 days for only $20,000, Cherkasky said.
A Lomma employee, Tibor Varganyi, found RTR’s offer on the Internet, and allegedly got James Lomma's approval to go through with the deal without checking the company’s references or other clients.
Varganyi, who will testify against his former boss, pleaded guilty in October 2011 to the same criminal charges of manslaughter, negligent homicide, assault and reckless endangerment that Lomma now faces. Lomma's original trial, set to start last November, was delayed until now.
Cherkasky displayed Varganyi’s email correspondence with RTR representative Joyce Wang, who wrote, in broken English, “we are afraid the weld technic [sic] we had [sic] is not good… [a]nd honest speaking we dont have confidence on this welding.”
Undeterred, Varganyi sent Wang drawings of what he was looking for, even though he had no engineering experience and only a 9th grade education, Cherkasky said.
Lomma’s attorney, James Kim, defended Varganyi’s experience, saying that he was hired because he previously worked for crane maker Kodiak. Kim also defended Lomma’s focus on the bottom line in the RTR transaction. “We don’t dispute that New York Crane was a business, and business was booming in 2007,” Kim said. He denied, however, the prosecution’s argument that RTR’s replacement piece caused the fatal collapse.
'Rush to Judgment' Criticized
“This case is about a rush to judgment,” Kim said, at the beginning of his opening arguments, adding later, “No one bothered to conduct a thorough investigation.”
Kim argued that the welding was damaged because it was "stretched beyond its physical limits," not because it was defective.
Varganyi was so confident in the new turntable that he risked his life twice by testing it himself from the cab of the crane, Kim said.
Turning to the computer model, Kim said it was flawed because it showed the boom of the crane falling backwards in its collapse, yet the so-called “headache ball” on top of the tower fell straight down. Kim promised that the photographic evidence from the scene of the accident would support the defense’s account of the collapse.
Paul Shechtman, who represents Lomma’s companies, delayed his opening remarks in order to make an argument that the prosecution’s burden of proof should be higher. The parties dispute whether Varganyi was a “high managerial agent” for Lomma’s businesses, which would make New York Crane and J.F. Lomma Crane criminally liable for Varganyi’s actions.
Witness testimony for the case will likely range from the emotionally charged to highly technical. Clark, the signalman who was the prosecution’s first witness, recalled ducking between a blue scaffolding wall and a gas shanty when the crane collapsed. “I landed down and covered up and hoped for the best,” Clark said, adding later, “I was trying to survive.” He emerged later to see “if there was anything I could do for Don [Leo],” who was dead inside the fallen cab.