NYC Dodges Prosecution in Deutsche Bank Fire

WNYC - December 24, 2008

by Bob Hennelly

NEW YORK, NY December 23, 2008 -A Manhattan grand jury has indicted three construction executives for their alleged role in the fatal fire at the former Deutsche Bank building. But as WNYC's Bob Hennelly reports, there's significant reaction to some key entities facing no indictment.

REPORTER: District Attorney Robert Morgenthau's report on the August 2007 fire paints a picture of egregious failures by city and state agencies and by the primary contractor, Bovis Lend Lease. Yet the D.A. says the principle of sovereign immunity protects the government from indictment. He says reforms he won to improve construction oversight from the city and the FDNY, are preferable to endless litigation.

MORGENTHAU: The scope of these changes is unprecedented and we think should result in preventing any tragedy of the magnitude of the Deutsche Bank fire.

REPORTER: Morgenthau says Bovis was not criminally indicted, in part, because he didn't want to put the major employer - with billions of dollars in public contracts - at risk. Moreover, he says Bovis agreed to redouble its compliance efforts, while spending millions on a fire safety academy, plus $10 million on a memorial fund for the families of two firefighters who died in the blaze. John Jay Professor Glenn Corbett, who's also with the Skyscraper Safety Campaign, disagrees with the D.A.'s decisions.

CORBETT: This is an accountability bailout for a number of government agencies and the Skyscraper Safety Campaign is very very concerned about how all these government agencies were able to escape any accountability.

REPORTER: For the Uniformed Firefighters Union, the D.A.'s report documents that FDNY brass failed to follow up on signs that the former Deutsche Bank building needed closer inspection. Union President Steven Cassidy says that would've revealed that a key standpipe was cut and removed, and other problems at the site owned by the state's Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.

CASSIDY: Over a hundred firefighters were sent to a high rise toxic vacant building with no water, no means of egress, and no way out. The leadership of the Fire Department failed before the fire, after the fire, those are the facts.

REPORTER: The Bloomberg Administration is conducting its own internal review, and a second grand jury is looking into the financial and contracting facets of the demolition project, which remains critical to the re-development of the World Trade Center complex. For WNYC, I'm Bob Hennelly.