D.A. convenes grand jury to investigate fatal building collapse

building collapse
More criminal charges are possible in last week’s fatal building collapse. (Credit: Rikard Larma / Metro)

District Attorney Seth Williams announced Monday that his office is convening a grand jury to investigate possible criminal charges in connection with the 22nd and Market streets building collapse, which last week killed six people and injured 13 more.

The District Attorney’s Office this weekend charged demolition site excavator operator Sean Benschop, 42, with involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment, risking a catastrophe and causing a catastrophe for allegedly operating the heavy machinery while under the influence of codeine and marijuana.

“Philadelphians have no shortage of opinions of the many people that should be held responsible for the perceived actions and inactions that may have played a role in the chain of events that led to the building collapsing,” Williams said.

“While some may be held responsible in civil court, the role of the grand jury will be to hear from witnesses, to gather documents, to gather information and to then determine if anyone in addition to Mr. Benschop should be held criminally responsible.”

But he asked that Philadelphians not rush to judgment.

“I know Philadelphians demand action,” he said.

“I have heard their voices loud and clear everywhere that I have gone this weekend via email and text, as have all of you.”

He said the grand jury will methodically review the actions and inactions of both the demolition site contractor and property owner, as well as determine whether there were any systemic failures on the part of city officials and others responsible for site safety oversight.

“The grand jury in this case, of course, will investigate and gather all the documents that preceded and may have allowed for the building’s collapse, any and all of the agencies, the protocols, the policies that everyone in Philadelphia is talking about when they’re in the barber shop or the nail salon about what their opinions are,” Williams said.

“Again, my role as District Attorney is not to play that parlor game, but to find the facts and the evidence. The grand jury will do that and I believe, of course, that their report may include those findings and more.”

A similar investigative grand jury was impaneled last year after a partial collapse during a four-alarm warehouse fire killed two firefighters.

That investigation is still ongoing – grand juries can take several years to review evidence and issue findings.

“We want Philadelphians to be patient as we gather all of the evidence and as we do what we think is appropriate in accordance with the law and due process,” Williams said.


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