Hardhat's Crushed in Building Collapse

NY Daily News - December 27, 2006

by PETER KADUSHIN, OREN YANIV and ROBERT F. MOORE

Calling into the darkness of a partially collapsed building in upper Manhattan, an injured construction worker pleaded yesterday for his nephew, a fellow hardhat, to respond. But there was no answer.

Burton Joseph, a 33-year-old father who began working as a hardhat just four weeks ago, was crushed to death about 12:30 p.m. when three floors pancaked inside a W. 113th St. building.

Two other workers, including Joseph's uncle, Stephen Fanfan, were injured.

Nesta Felix, 27, the dead man's cousin, visited her injured uncle at St. Luke's Hospital last night.

"He said he was just calling Burton's name over and over and got no response," Felix said. "He knew he was dead when he didn't get a response."

Joseph, who moved to Brooklyn from Barbados three months ago, was at least the 17th city construction worker killed on the job this year, five more than in 2005.

"He loved his family," said his brother, Thadeus Joseph, 29, one of about a dozen relatives gathered at the victim's East Flatbush apartment. "All he talked about was his son."

"My mom was worried about him doing this kind of work," the brother said. "But he never had any concerns."

Fanfan, 38, and an unidentified worker were in stable condition last night. The workers had been converting the Morningside Heights building into apartments.

A Manhattan security guard said she ran to the building collapse after she heard a loud boom and men screaming near Frederick Douglass Blvd.

"I saw one of them covered in debris," the guard said. "There were beams covering his body and across his head I thought, 'Omigod, he could be dead.'"

One of the injured workers staggered from the building before the first of about 120 firefighters arrived. Members of Manhattan's Rescue 1 and Ladder 126 cut through wooden beams and freed the other injured worker about 20 minutes later.

"I worked with [Burton Joseph] for two weeks," said hardhat Jeffrey Ramos, 26. "I feel like I knew him forever We shed blood together."

The five-story building was sold in 2003 by the city to the South Harlem Development Corp., according to the city Housing Preservation and Development Office.

The city Buildings Department said it expected to issue violations in connection with the collapse following an investigation.

City inspectors were probing the cause of the collapse and questioning owners of the Queens-based Transcorp Construction Corp, which was contracted to convert the building into apartments.