The New York-area crane rigger accused of causing the deadly collapse of a 200-ft tower in Manhattan two years ago has been acquitted on all charges, including manslaughter and negligent homicde.
William Rapetti, his wife and three daughters cried tears of relief as Judge Roger Hayes announced “not guilty” to all twenty charges against the 49-year-old contractor and his firm, and Rapetti Rigging Services Inc., including seven counts each of manslaughter and negligent homicide as well as three counts of second degree assault and two counts of failure to file a tax return. He was charged shortly after the March 2008 collapse of a crane he was erecting on the site of a rising condominium on the Upper East Side. Six construction workers and one civilian were killed in the collapse.
“I can’t say we’re happy,” said Rapetti’s attorney, Arthur Aidala, outside the courtroom after the reading of the verdict. “We’re relieved.”
The relief could be seen in red-rimmed eyes of the master rigger, hugging his wife and daughters after the reading of the verdict. Despite his relief, Rapetti was hardly exultant leaving the courthouse immediately after Hayes adjourned the hearing. He ignored the cavalcade of reporters, cameramen and photographers that lined the room.
Prosecutors argued that Rapetti used damaged polyester slings to hold the collar of the six-ton crane while it was being “jumped,” or extended. Additionally, Rapetti was accused of using just four of the slings rather than eight, which had been recommended by the crane’s manufacturer. But the defense countered the Rapetti was the “fall guy” with a spotless record in a long career.
Instead, Rapetti’s attorneys countered, the crane collapsed because of several mistakes made by various city agencies and engineers, as well as the project’s developer. Aidala specifically argued both during the trial and his closing arguments that the collapse was caused by the buckling of the building’s ninth-floor supporting tie-beams which had been spot-welded on-site, rather than taken in for specific measurements, which would have delayed the project. The time-saving measure, he alleged, was an attempt by the developer to rush construction during the tail-end of the city’s housing boom in late 2007 and early 2008.
In his opening statement, Aidala accused New York City of “incompetence at the highest levels of city government,” and after the verdict, Aidala told reporters that one of the Department of Buildings inspectors has been indicted for filing a false report about the crane.
“This tragic collapse serves as a reminder of the importance of taking every possible safety precaution on any construction site,” New York City Building Commissioner Robert LiMandri said in a statement following Rapetti’s acquittal. “It is clear that shortcuts, in order to save time and money, can have devastating consequences.”
District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. released a statement that he was “extremely disappointed by the court’s verdict,” adding, “At this time our thoughts go out to the seven victims’ families, whose lives were devastated by this tragic incident.”
Vance’s office declined further comment when contacted.
According to Aidala, his Rapetti is also thinking of the victims, and he is planning on soon visiting the cemeteries of his fellow riggers who died in the collapse. If convicted, he could have spent most of the rest of his life in prison as he was facing up to 27 years.
“We’re not going to lose an eighth life, now,” Aidala said.