More charges flew on Jan. 5 and 6 against construction officials at the center of two of Manhattan’s highest-profile jobsite accidents in the last 18 months. On Jan. 5, a master rigger was indicted for his alleged actions involving a 200-ft-high tower crane that destabilized and collapsed at a Midtown high-rise site last March, killing six workers and a civilian. William Rapetti, 48, was indicted on multiple charges of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, assault and reckless endangerment. Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau also said Rapetti and his firm Rapetti Rigging Services Inc., Massapequa Park, N.Y., failed to file tax returns for 2006 and 2007. On Jan. 6, another contractor official at the troubled Deutsche Bank asbestos-abatement and demolition site near Ground Zero was indicted. The high-rise was the site of a 2007 fire that trapped and killed two city firefighters.
Rapetti surrendered to authorities and faces a total of up to 27 years in prison if convicted, said Morgenthau. Rapetti on Jan. 5 pleaded not guilty in state supreme court and was released on $75,000 bail. “William Rapetti is determined to help clear his name and demonstrate that he and his company operated and supervised the site in a manner beyond reproach,” says his attorney, Arthur L. Aidala.
According to the indictment, Rapetti had been supervising a rigging crew that was jumping the crane from the 18th floor at an apartment construction site on East 51st Street. 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 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 residential high-rise. The accident killed crane operator Wayne Bleidner, oiler Anthony Mazza, three others on the rigging crew and an occupant of the adjacent building. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration last year fined Rapetti $220,000, citing three “willful” violations.
Morgenthau said Rapetti’s “reckless and negligent rigging practices” caused the slings to fail and the crane to collapse. He said that in using four slings for the jump, the rigger failed to follow the crane manufacturer’s specifications calling for eight slings. Morgenthau also said the project construction manager offered Rapetti “new slings to use, but [he] rejected them.”
No charges were filed against city officials or agencies because of what prosecutors say are sovereign immunity protections, but the city has been sharply criticized for oversight failures. Rose Gill Hearn, the city’s investigations department commissioner, said new crane-safety rules in effect since September require crane-installation engineers-of-record to submit plans for all tower-crane jumping and dismantling operations to the city Buildings Dept. Pre-jump safety meetings are required 24 hours in advance. Department officials will be on-site at selected “audited” jumps, Hearn said.
Aidala says Rapetti is cooperating with investigators to help “determine the actual cause or causes” of the accident. He says the rigger is a veteran in the business and was “personally selected to lead and oversee” crane operations at the Ground Zero cleanup site after the 2001 attack.
Peter Stroh, president of Stroh Engineering Services P.C., the tower crane’s West Babylon, N.Y., installation engineer, claims the four slings used were rated to lift more than 5,000 lb each. The collar weighed 12,000 lb. He also says the slings “were brand-new for that job.” Stroh adds that prosecutors’ probes of the slings have not determined why two of them failed in the middle, while the others failed at choke points. Stroh did not testify against Rappetti, he says.
Last month, three site managers and demolition subcontractor The John Galt Corp. were indicted for safety violations at the Deutche Bank job but pleaded not guilty. Newly indicted on multiple grand-larceny charges is Robert Chiarappa, 45, Galt’s purchasing agent. Prosecutors say Chiarappa stole $1.2 million from the state and Arch Insurance Group, the firm’s surety, by approving false and inflated invoices from site vendors in exchange for cash, gifts and construction supplies for personal use. He pleaded not guilty and posted $100,000 bail. Proceedings will resume on Jan. 15.