Crane operator in ’13 Salvation Army collapse pleads guilty

The backhoe operator in a June 2013 deadly building collapse pleaded guilty Tuesday to six counts of involuntary manslaughter.

SeanBenschop, 44, faces up to 94 years in prison — though prosecutors have pledged not to seek more than 10 to 20 in a case that rasied serious questions about the city’s oversight of demolition contractors.

The collapse occurred as Benschop was tearing down a four-story building that formerly housed a Hoagie City restaurant at 22nd and Market Street with his heavy excavator.

That four-story building fell on top of a neighboring one-story Salvation Army store, trapping 13 people and killing JuanitaHarmon, Roseline Conteh, Mary Simpson, Kimberly Finnegan, Ann Bryan and Borbor Davis.

Prosecutors contend that the only proper way to tear the building down is by hand, and that using heavy equipment was improper.

Benschop’s lawyer, Bill Davis, said his client was ready to take responsibility for his role in the tragedy.

“He should have walked away from the job site, and he didn’t,” Davis said.

Sentencing is scheduled for October 23.

Benschop’s co-defendant, contractor Griffin T. Campbell also faces six counts of involuntary manslaughter and 12counts of recklessly endangering another person. Trial is set for September.

Campbell’s lawyer, William Hobson,slammed prosecutors for failing to note thatBenschopwas high on marijuana and Percocetsat the time of the collapse.

“We are ready for trial,” Hobson said.

Nancy Winkler and Jay Bryan, the parents of collapse fatality Ann Bryan issued a statement saying that many people involved in the accident chose to ignore the looming danger of the unsafe demolition.

“We continue to wait for all those responsible to break their silence and answer questions about their outrageous conduct leading up to the fatal building collapse,” the statement read. “The waiting and uncertainty is deeply troubling. Bringing the full story to light so the public will know what occurred is not just in our personal interest, but that of all the citizens of our city.”

Still unclear is whether prosecutors plan to level charges against the owner of the building. They declined to say, but said the investigation against Campbell is still open.

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