WE START where we always have since the deadly Market Street building collapse that killed six people and injured 13 on June 5, 2013 - with the building's Teflon-coated owner, Richard Basciano.
And if there is any justice or, perhaps more likely, karma in the world, we will end with Basciano walking down a road to a hell of his own making, paved with excuses.
Since an unsupported four-story wall crumbled and crushed the adjacent Salvation Army thrift store at 21st and Market, many have wanted to hear from Basciano, the property owner who had the final say on contracts and decisions, but whose clout and cash kept him insulated from accountability. I know I wanted a face-to-face.
Shortly after the collapse, I visited the fancy Symphony House apartment building where he lived, hoping I'd be able to talk to him, much the same way the widow of one of the victims wishes she could still talk to her husband. Instead, I was shown the door.
I left letters and messages that went unanswered while men without connections answered for their parts in the avoidable collapse. The inexperienced demolition contractor who was in way over his head and the excavator operator, who could barely read, deserve to be sitting in jail. But Basciano should be right there with them.
Over the weekend, in a story by my colleague Joseph A. Slobodzian, we were finally able to hear from the now-90-year-old man who is at the center of an avoidable tragedy that traumatized a city, but who stunningly - obscenely - remains unaffected himself.
During a four-day deposition in December, Basciano, who faces a civil trial, blamed everyone but himself. His top aide, the contractor, the architect on the deal (who got immunity for his testimony), and the Salvation Army, which he said caused the collapse by not working with them.
I agree with Basciano. I count all of the above on the list of the accountable. His list just fails to include the person at the top of mine - Basciano himself. Basciano said he had no idea that the wall was on the brink of collapse. In a twist of the dog-ate-my-homework excuse, he said that despite reports that he was at the site when the building came down, he was actually in the bathroom across the street. Nature called and all that. And when the building did come down, his wife swept him away to an eye appointment.
A reader commenting on Slobodzian's story online suggested that Basciano is a sociopath. I might have chalked that up to hyperbole if not for Basciano's own words.
To hear the former Times Square King of Porn and notorious absentee landlord tell it, he, too, lost a lot that summer day. For starters, his dreams of making over a dilapidated section of Market and reimagining his smutty reputation.
"My dream was shattered as a result of that terrible accident, where I have tears in my eyes to this day," Basciano was quoted as saying.
Right. Never mind the dreams of Kimberly Finnegan, who never got to walk down the aisle to marry her best friend. Or of childhood friends Anne Bryan and Mary Lea Simpson. Or of Juanita Harmon, Roseline Conteh, and Borbor Davis - whose widow, Maggie, still aches for her best friend.
And what about the dreams of Mariya Plekan, who was buried under the rubble for 13 hours and lost both her legs, or of L&I inspector Ronald Wagenhoffer, who killed himself a week after the collapse?
"Anne lost her life. She lost her dreams. She was 24 years old," said Nancy Winkler, Bryan's mother. "Mary lost her life. She lost her dreams and she was 24 years old. Four other people died that day, another person died later. People were injured. People have been traumatized in this city, and apparently Mr. Basciano has said that his dreams were shattered? He had 87 years to pursue his dreams, and I think the record is pretty clear about what kind of dreams he had and how he pursued them."
I am disgusted by Basciano's comments, but not especially surprised by them. Money and connections keep people like Basciano from the messy business of accountability. And what could he say, really, about the tragic consequences of his decisions? Even if he did suddenly grow a conscience and admit to his part, it won't bring anyone back, it won't undo the loss and pain.
The building collapsed, but Basciano stands as a stark reminder of this nation's two justice systems - the one for the haves and the one for the have-nots.
Until that changes, the best we could hope for is that Basciano is forced to put his money where his heart should be.