NYC Contractors Face Manslaughter Charges in Safety Cases
Prosecutors are pressing ahead with new charges against contractors for workplace-related accidents.
James F. Lomma, a crane company owner who was charged last year in connection with a May 2008 crane accident in New York City that killed two workers, is scheduled to go on trial on Sept. 19. Paul Schechtman, an attorney representing Lomma's firm, has said there is no basis for criminal charges in the case.
Lomma, 64, two other firms and a former employee have pleaded not guilty to charges that include second-degree manslaughter and second-degree assault.
Manhattan district attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said, “[The indictment] is an important step not only in holding these defendants accountable for their conduct but should send a message to the construction industry that profit cannot be put ahead of safety.”
Vance's office has lost two controversial accident-related prosecutions since last year. One of them involved the dismissal by a judge of criminal charges against William Rapetti, the rigger operating a tower crane in Manhattan that collapsed in March 2008, killing seven people. Vance had obtained an indictment against Rapetti on charges that included manslaughter.
Despite the failed prosecution, New York City officials still found a way to make their point. On July 20, Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri revoked Rapetti's tower-crane rigger's license and his Class B hoist-machine operator's licence, which had been suspended since the collapse. The revocation prevents Rapetti from operating or overseeing cranes in New York City.
LiMandri based his revocation on the finding of an administrative law judge who presided at a city hearing. The judge found that Rapetti used a damaged sling to support the steel collar binding the tower-crane mast to the 18th floor of a high-rise building being constructed; used four slings instead of the eight, as specified by the crane manufacturer; improperly attached the slings and failed to pad or soften them.
“We have determined that Mr. Rapetti took shortcuts,” LiMandri said in a statement. Rapetti and his attorneys have denied that the slings were the cause of the crane collapse.
Vance's other failed criminal prosecution involved charges against three construction supervisors in connection with the deaths of two firefighters in a blaze at a Deutsche bank building near Ground Zero. In that case, a jury and a judge found the defendants not guilty.
Prosecutors also continue to press criminal charges over federal safety violations. The U.S. attorney in Denver has yet to set a date for the trial of Santa Fe Springs, Calif.-based contractor RPI Coating Inc. and RPI executives Philippe Goutagny and James Thompson. They are charged with violating federal safety standards in connection with the deaths of five painters who asphyxiated during a powerplant fire in Denver. On June 28, a federal jury acquitted the utility Xcel, the owner of the powerplant, of 10 criminal charges related to the fire.