The Manhattan district attorney has maintained that William Rapetti and his company, Rapetti Rigging Services, Massapequa Park, N.Y., is responsible for the March 15, 2008 collapse. But the defense team has continually pushed to prove alternative causes, claiming that Rapetti did not do “anything wrong” in preparing the 200-ft tower crane to be “jumped,” or extended, from the 18th floor of a rising condo on East 51st Street. Rapetti, 49, was licensed by the city's Department of Buildings (DOB) to supervise crane jumps and was a member of Local 14 of the operating engineers' union. He was indicted in 2009 on multiple charges of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, assault and reckless endangerment and he faces a total of up to 27 years in prison.
Throughout opening arguments and much of the first week of testimony, Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Sean Sullivan, using reports from both the DOB and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, claimed that during the jumping process Rapetti used four nylon slings to secure the crane’s six-ton steel collar to its mast. The slings, prosecutors say, snapped because Rapetti “carelessly” and “recklessly” failed to follow the manufacturers specifications for the Favelle Favco M440E crane, which called for eight slings. In addition, prosecutors have alleged that at least one of the slings was sun-faded and torn and improperly tied to edges and corners.
The prosecution’s argument took a hit last week when its own witness, concrete laborer Rosario Galluzzo testified that he was the last person to handle the slings before the accident. He said the slings were all ordered new and that he remembered removing the bright-yellow slings from the plastic “with [his] own fingers,” adding that he “never saw them snapped or cut.” Galluzzo did say, though, that he and other workers heard “material” – not metal – “snap” and saw the crane “jiggle” before it fell.
“For a few seconds, we’re looking at each other, [thinking], ‘What the hell was that?’” he recalled. “Then the collar went down.”
Rapetti’s attorney, Arthur Aidala, has also refuted the DOB and OSHA reports maintaining, instead, that the collapse was caused by several different factors, including the crane’s not being bolted to the ground due to a cost-cutting measure made by the building’s owner in order to save $250,000 on the project. Instead, he said, the crane was held in place only by friction.
“Before March 15 this crane was already falling down. They were walking into an ambush that day,” Aidala told Judge Roger Hayes.
The case is being heard only by Hayes as Rapetti requested not to be tried by a jury.
Aidala also raised the question of whether or not the site supervisor for the project’s lead contractor, Joy Contractors, Elizabeth, N.J., was even on site at the time the crane was being jumped. New York City police officer Tom Carpenter, who was working crowd control at a St. Patrick’s Day-themed “bar crawl” a block away from the site, testified that he saw several men in hardhats racing to the site after the crane collapsed. The men had been hanging around near the throngs of St. Patrick’s Day “revelers,” Carpenter said.
While questioning OSHA Manhattan Area Director Richard Mendelson, Aidala said one of the men was Joy Contractors’ site supervisor – a claim backed by testimony from Galluzzo, who said, “The bosses weren’t there.”
High winds were a third possible alternative cause of the collapse brought up by Aidala during the trial’s first week. He cited a National Weather Service report that said the day of the collapse saw sustained gusts of 20 mph, the maximum speed allowed for jumping a Favelle Favco M440E crane. Rapetti’s attorneys argued that the winds were likely higher at the construction site given that New York City weather forecasts are taken at 30 ft in the air at Central Park. The crane was hundreds of feet higher in the air and only one block from the East River, Aidala said.
During Aidala’s cross examination of the prosecution’s crane expert, Lawrence Shapiro, a principal with international engineering firm Howard I. Shapiro & Associates, Lynbrook, N.Y., Shapiro denied that there was “significant” evidence that the winds were enough to bring the crane down.
- By Adam Klasfeld