Market St. contractor convicted - now it's time to make others pay

ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER The criminal verdicts in the Market Street collapse are in, but now it's time for a civil trial.

ANTOINETTE CHISOLM knew that her son, Griffin Campbell, the demolition contractor in the June 5, 2013, building collapse, would get time for his part in the deadly accident at 22nd and Market.

She never once told me that her son shouldn't be among those held accountable in the collapse of a Salvation Army thrift store that left six dead and 13 injured. None of the Campbell family members I've ever spoken with have. What they have consistently said, and what I agree with, was that others with more clout and money also should have been held responsible.

Chisholm braced herself for the worst: Campbell, 51, could have faced life in prison if he'd been convicted of third-degree murder. Instead, jurors found him guilty of six counts of involuntary manslaughter, and other related charges, which could put him behind bars for 91 years. To his mother, it all sounded the same.

As she waited for the third-floor elevators at the Criminal Justice Center, Chisholm quietly said she needed to go home to try to take in the loss of two sons in two weeks.

On Oct. 12, she buried Kendall Campbell, 49, after he was felled by an illness.

"And now here I am feeling like I'm burying another," Chisolm tearfully said.

Officially, this is a win for the prosecution. But really, there are no winners here - unless you count project architect Plato Marinakos Jr., who got immunity for his testimony even though the prosecution said it had plenty of evidence and witnesses to convict Campbell. So why was Marinakos given immunity? And how about building owner Richard Basciano, who was on site on the day of the collapse, but who has been allowed to remain a ghost since 13 people were buried alive?

The only person besides Campbell to face criminal charges, excavator operator Sean Benschop, pleaded guilty in July to six counts of involuntary manslaughter, 12 counts of reckless endangerment, one count of aggravated assault and related charges in a deal with prosecutors for no more than 20 years in prison.

"No verdict can replace the lives that were lost on that June morning, but I hope today's verdict brings more closure and healing to the friends and families of those who were injured and lost their lives," read the statement from Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams.

"On behalf of the men and women of the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, we offer our heartfelt condolences with the hopes that today's verdict will be a powerful reminder that job-site safety is paramount and if someone breaks the law like Griffin Campbell and Sean Benschop did, they will be punished to the fullest extent of the law."

Oh, that much we know. If people like Campbell and Benschop break the law, they most certainly are punished. They're easy targets. If others, like Marinakos and Basciano, act all kinds of shady - or worse - that's a whole different story. And although Assistant District Attorney Edward Cameron continued to suggest yesterday that Marinakos could-maybe-who-knows-if-new-evidence-comes-to-light be prosecuted, let's stop with the games.

So, now what?

Now that the verdict against Campbell is in, it's time to go after the deep pockets of those who got away without criminal charges but who still should pay.

"This criminal trial focused on the responsibility of just one person," said the statement from City Treasurer Nancy Winkler and her husband, Jay Bryan. Their daughter Anne Bryan, 24, was among the victims.

"We now focus on pursuing justice in the civil trial . . . where the fault of everyone involved, not just one individual, will be determined."

Basciano, Marinakos and the Salvation Army are among those named in next year's civil trial.

Six families were shattered. Mariya Plekan, 54, who was buried under the rubble for 13 hours, lost half her body. One week after the collapse, the Licenses & Inspections man on the job, Ronald Wagenhoffer, killed himself.

No amount of money can bring back any of the victims or repair any of the lives of those left behind.

But you know what they say: Money talks. So maybe making those with the most cash, clout and connections pay up will send the long-overdue message that no one gets a pass in this avoidable tragedy.


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