A veteran building inspector for Philadelphia who had checked a building prior to its deadly collapse has been found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to city officials. He was identified as Ronald Wagenhoffer, 52.
The Associated Press reported that he was found shot in the chest in a truck Wednesday night and that the longtime employee with the Department of Licenses and Inspections had inspected the building May 14 and signed off on demolition work underway, after getting complaints about the site from the public, according to Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison.
The news comes as officials continue their probe of the building collapse on June 6 that killed six people and injured 13. Officials are focused on demolition contractor Griffin Campbell Construction and excavator operator Sean Benschop in the mishap that caused a brick wall to fall on a neighboring thrift store. A local construction executive says he saw significant safety violations at the building before it fell.
Benschop was charged with six counts of involuntary manslaughter, 13 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of risking a catastrophe. A toxicology report reportedly showed marijuana in his system.
OSHA also is investigating, says a spokeswoman. She says OSHA also opened a separate site probe in May involving open-shop firm Griffin Campbell after an anonymous complaint alleged fall hazards on the site. She says the firm had no OSHA history before that. The agency is evaluating if additional firms also were involved in the June 6 incident.
Carl Mason, president of Central Salvage Company Inc., a demolition firm based near the accident site, says he spotted violations there in recent weeks. "The workers weren't wearing safety harnesses or hardhats," he claims.
Mason says site photos taken during demolition show that the structure, which apparently was supported by brick load-bearing walls, was being torn down from the front to the back of the building with an excavator. He says a brick wall next to the thrift store was left standing without any apparent bracing or protection over the store.
The wall's floor joists also were removed, which likely compromised structural integrity, says Mason.
"It absolutely called for handwork, not machinery demolition, because of the adjacent building's proximity," he says. "Remove one wrong member, and you put everything else in jeopardy—on top of which, buildings are 80 to 100 years old."
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said on June 7 that mechanical demolition will now be banned next to an occupied structure. He also announced a new permit application process for private development.
Griffin Campbell, which had a demolition permit, is in Chapter 13 bankruptcy. The building was owned by STB Investment Corp., Philadelphia. Neither Campbell nor STB could be reached. In a statement, the developer said it was committed to working with authorities to determine the accident cause.