Attorneys for master rigger William Rapetti alleged in court Thursday that the supervisor for the lead contractor on the site of the deadly 2008 crane collapse in Midtown Manhattan was seen with St. Patrick’s Day “revelers” – who were on a “bar crawl” – at the time of the accident.
Rapetti was supervising the “jump” or extension of a 200-ft tower crane from the 18th floor of a rising condominium on East 51st Street when the crane collapsed and killed seven people, including the crane operator, five members of the rigging crew and one nearby resident.
At the same time as the accident, which occurred on Saturday, March 13, a St. Patrick’s Day-themed “bar crawl” was going on just down the street, according to testimony from Officer Tom Carpenter of the NYPD, who was working crowd control that day. Carpenter told the court he saw workers in hardhats returning from the area of the bar crawl to the construction site after the crane collapsed. One of the workers told Carpenter, “[My] brothers are up there,” referring to the fallen crane, Carpenter said during questioning.
During later testimony from the former Manhattan investigator with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Richard Mendelson, Rappetti’s attorney Arthur L. Aidala alleged that the supervisor for the project’s lead contractor, Joy Contractors, Elizabeth, N.J., was one of the workers who had been hanging around near the partiers.
“We know,” Aidala said after Thursday’s hearing, that the supervisor was off-site “near the St. Patrick’s Day revelers” at the time of the collapse.
While questioning Mendelson, Aidala asked if there were any OSHA regulations that required the Joy Contractors supervisor to be on the job site if he was working that day.
“No,” Mendelson said.
Although Aidala stopped short of accusing the supervisor, himself, of drinking on the job, he asked Mendelson if there were any OSHA regulations prohibiting employees from consuming alcohol on the job, to which Mendelson also replied, “No.”
Mendelson remained on the hot seat when Aidala’s questioning turned to OSHA’s investigation of the cause of the accident. Rapetti’s attorneys attacked the credibility of both Mendelson and the report on the accident– which was largely relied upon to indict Rapetti – for misidentifying parts of the crane, not subpoenaing evidence that might have contradicting his assertion of Rapetti’s guilt and contending that the accident had but a single cause. Prosecutors largely relied on OSHA’s report to indict Rapetti for multiple charges of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, assault and reckless endangerment, for which he can serve 27 years in prison.
OSHA has maintained that regulations called for Rapetti to support the crane with eight slings, as opposed to the four allegedly faulty and poorly installed ones that it claimed he used. Aidala even attempted to challenge the integrity of the slings and come-alongs that were admitted as evidence, trying to raise doubts that they came from the collapsed crane.
Aidala asked Mendelson to demonstrate on one of the prosecutor’s photographs how he would have preferred Rapetti to secure the slings to the crane on March 15, 2008. Mendelson gestured to a part of the crane’s mast that he said had no rough edges, and Aidala asked him to identify a component behind it.
“That’s one of the legs,” he answered.
It was the piston, Aidala corrected, and he argued the crane’s unorthodox configuration made it impossible to conform slings to OSHA regulations.
Mendelson countered that he should have asked for the manufacturer’s guidance, in that case.
And although OSHA processed subpoenas about the crane’s slings and come-alongs, it did not request the crane's computer, which was recovered from the debris. Mendelson admitted that information from the crane’s computer “could be” useful to an investigation but when told by Aidala that the computer of the Favelle Favco M440E crane had had several problems prior to the collapse, Mendelson said he was not aware of that. He also admitted he was unaware that the city’s Department of Buildings had initially rejected plans to support the crane with “friction” rather than ground bolting.