NY 1 - December 23, 2008by Roger Clark
Firefighters Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino died last year when they couldn't get out during a fire at the Deutsche Bank Building, which was being taken down after it was damaged during the September 11th terrorist attacks.
A discarded cigarette started the fire, the building's sprinkler system had been disabled, its standpipe was the only means of bringing water to the fire. But it had been dismantled and the ways out were blocked by plywood.
"Everybody who could have screwed up screwed up here," said Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau.
The DA's report blamed three men and a subcontractor -- Jeffrey Melofchik, the site safety manager for Bovis Lend Lease, the company overseeing the deconstruction, Mitchel Alvo, the director of abatement for subcontractor John Galt, chosen to decontaminate the building, and Salvatore DePaola, a Galt foreman. Each could face five to 15 years in prison. DePaola's' attorney, Rick Pasacreta, said his client's son is a member of the FDNY.
"Especially offending is the fact that someone would suggest that he would recklessly endanger the lives of firefighters when his son's a firefighter," said Pasacreta.
The Galt Corporation was also indicted. The city and Bovis were not, although the fire department admitted it hadn't conducted regular inspections. The city's department of buildings and other agencies also admitted lapses. Morgenthau said a law known as "sovereign immunity" protects the city from criminal prosecution but said the city and Bovis agreed to institute major safety measures.
"I think the criticisms of the inspection system have been met, we've made enormous improvements and we're going to make improvements as we go forward," said Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta.
"The city accepts responsibility for the inspectional and enforcement failures by its agencies. We deeply regret the failures of our agencies to inspect and detect the conditions that contributed to the deaths of firefighters Beddia and Graffagnino," said the city's law department in a statement.
Graffagnino's father said there should have been more indictments.
"The fire department suspended two chiefs and a captain, and although the fire department itself cannot be indicted, the individuals who should have done their job and didn't, should have been indicted," said Graffagnino.
All three men, along with the Galt Corporation have plead not guilty to the charges and are due back in court on January 7.