Faulty Sling Argument Takes a Hit in Rigger’s Manslaughter Trial
The prosecution’s argument against master rigger William Rapetti suffered a couple of blows Monday as a worker who was on site the day of the deadly 2008 crane collapse said he saw nothing wrong with the four nylon slings used to secure the crane’s six-ton steel collar to its mast.
Rappeti faces manslaughter and other charges and could receive up to 27 years in prison if Justice Roger S. Hayes – who is hearing the case without a jury at Rapetti’s request – finds that he was negligent in preparing the crane jump, which occurred on March 15 2008. During the jump, the crane – which was attached to the 18th floor of a rising condo on Manhattan’s East 51st Street – collapsed, killing seven, including the entire rigging crew.
In Monday’s hearing, prosecutors questioned Rosario Galluzzo, a concrete laborer whom they called as a witness to explain what happened just before the crane collapsed. While Galluzzo did testify that he heard “material” – not metal – snap before feeling the crane “jiggle,” he also refuted one of the chief arguments against Rapetti by claiming the nylon slings were brand new rather than sun-faded, frayed and torn.
As the prosecution questioned him, Galluzzo said the slings had been ordered new and delivered days before the accident. He specified that he, himself, had removed them from their plastic packaging. When asked if he had opened the plastic with a knife or something that could have cut or damaged the slings he said used his fingers.
“I never saw them snapped or cut,” he said.
Galluzo also confirmed that site supervisors for the project’s lead contractor, Joy Contractors, Elizabeth, N.J., were off site at the time of the accident.
“The bosses weren’t there,” he said.
Last week, Rapetti’s attorney, Arthur Aidala, said several men in hard hats, including the supervisor for Joy, were down the street near a group of St. Patrick’s Day “revelers” on a “bar crawl” just before the accident.
The faulty slings explanation was also the conclusion of expert witness Lawrence Shapiro, one of the principals of the international engineering firm Howard I. Shapiro & Associates who co-authored the book “Cranes and Derricks,” widely considered one of the definitive guides to cranes.
But Aidala said Shapiro’s book gave a myriad other explanations for crane collapse – such as operator misjudgment, inadequate maintenance, poor design, imprecise calculations, insecure mounting and even gusty winds – that applied to this case and exonerated his client.
His questioning also challenged each of the prosecution’s tenets about how Rapetti allegedly failed to secure the mast with slings.
Refuting the prosecution’s argument that his client should have used eight slings, Aidala asserted that a single sling could, in theory, have supported the weight of two cranes.
Shapiro responded that would only work “if you put it in a laboratory” in conditions that were “ideal in every sense.”
Aidala then argued that, by Shapiro's own estimates, even a “severely choked” sling should have supported the entire weight of the crane, and Rapetti used at least three new ones. Shapiro countered that even this presupposed that the sling was not tied around any sharp edges and did not bunch or slip.
The prosecution has argued that one of the slings was so sun-beaten that it had faded to white. But when Judge Roger Hayes asked Shapiro whether a whitened sling should not be used, the witness answered, “I do not have enough expertise to answer that question.”
That remark prompted Aidala to ask, “You're not an expert on slings, are you?”
Shapiro replied that Aidala could call him “a semi-expert,” provoking laughter throughout the courtroom.
In his testimony, Shapiro also admitted that it was only “recommended” that Rapetti pad the slings with softeners to make sure they did not rip, and that he did not have personal knowledge that “bunching” of the slings would reduce their strength.
Yet during the prosecution’s redirect, Shapiro remained confident in his conclusion that the crane collapsed because one sling “failed,” causing the other two to break when the loads shifted. The chain of events would have taken “no more than a couple of seconds,” he argued.
Still, the defense continued pressed him on alternative causes.
In a new line of argument for this trial, Rapetti’s defense attorney Arthur L. Aidala raised the possibility that high winds could have brought down the crane.
On March 25, 2008, the National Weather Service reported sustained gusts of 20 mph, the maximum wind speed allowed for jumping the Favelle Favco M440E crane, according to the manufacturer’s manual, he said.
But Aidala argued that the winds were probably even higher at the construction site because New York City forecasts are taken 30 ft in the air in Central Park, whereas the crane was hundreds of feet higher and only one avenue away from the East River .Shapiro agreed with the facts of the defense attorney’s argument, said that the reasoning reflected what his engineering firm wrote in Chapter Three of “Cranes and Derricks,” but denied that there was evidence that the wind in this case was “significant” enough to bring down the crane in this case.