Hoping to Reopen Deutsche Bank Case

Downtown Express - July 14, 2011

by JOHN BAYLES

Spurred by the outcome of the Deutsche Bank trial that saw the acquittal of three individuals charged in a case involving the deaths of NYC Firefighters Joseph Graffagnino Jr. and Robert Beddia, two groups are hoping the case will not go away.

"I think they tried the wrong people. They were the lowest on the totem pole and I think they should be looking at the top," said FDNY Deputy Chief Jim Riches, chair of 9/11 Parents and Families of Firefighters & W.T.C. Victims.

Riches is a member of the Skyscraper Safety Campaign, created just after 9/11 by Sally Regenhard and co-chaired by Monica Gabrielle. Both Riches and Regenhard believe that the three individuals who stood trial, Jeffrey Melofchik, Salvatore DePaola and Mitchel Alvo, were "scapegoats." Riches went as far as to state the real culprit, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, who owned the building at the time of the fire, was "let off the hook."

"They were told accidents were going to happen," said Riches. "It was a blatant, outright abuse of the law, like they had carte blanche to sacrifice safety."

Riches was referring to a warning issued before the fatal fire by a safety consultant, the URS Company, hired by the L.M.D.C. The consultant's warning was ignored.

"To a large extent the real estate industry and the building industry control this city," said Regenhard. "There's an aurora that suggests agencies like the L.M.D.C. and the Port Authority are untouchable."

Another group, the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, is also calling for the case to be reopened and is also claiming that the L.M.D.C. was negligent in their handling of the building's demolition. Both groups cite evidence presented by former District Attorney Robert Morgenthau who presided over the case in the fire's immediate aftermath.

"Mr. Morgenthau went further," states a letter to current District Attorney Cy Vance, signed by Alexander Hagan, president of the U.F.O.A. "He detailed the dates of seven fires in the building between the beginning of demolition and the August 3 warning [by URS]. None of the fires were reported to 9-1-1 and the FDNY, in violation of the L.M.D.C.'s Emergency Action Plan."

The L.M.D.C., the Office of Emergency Management as well as other city agencies, according to Hagan's letter, adopted the E.A.P.

The letter continues, "The U.F.O.A. believes that the repeated violations of the L.M.D.C.'s own Emergency Action Plan, taken together with the L.M.D.C.'s failure to heed a stern warning from its consultant company, adds up to criminal negligence by those persons responsible for all those many failures."

Both groups are seeking the same outcome. They want to ensure that those responsible for the fire be held accountable. But more importantly, they want to make sure such a disaster never happens again.

"We're calling for new additions to the building code that would mandate these inspections and if they're not properly carried out, people have to be held accountable," said Regenhard.