Architect Marinakos: 'No, I do not' share responsibility for building collapse

When Center City architect Plato A. Marinakos Jr. testified last year in the criminal trial involving the deadly 2013 collapse that crushed a Salvation Army thrift store, he did so under a shield of immunity from prosecution.

On Monday, Marinakos - hired to oversee a building being razed adjacent to the thrift store at 22nd and Market Streets - was back on the witness stand in the Philadelphia civil trial of lawsuits filed after the collapse, this time trying to shield himself from a liability verdict that could end his professional career.

"Do you feel you share any responsibility for this collapse?" asked plaintiffs' lawyer Robert J. Mongeluzzi.

"No, I do not," replied the reticent 50-year-old architect.

Others have disagreed.

On Sept. 21, in the first week of the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court trial, plaintiffs' witness Stephen A. Estrin, an expert on construction and demolition standards, called Marinakos most responsible for the June 5, 2013, collapse that killed six people and injured 13. A seventh person died 23 days later.

Estrin told the jury that the demolition became dangerous "the moment they hired Mr. Marinakos."

On Monday, Mongeluzzi, his voice heavy with sarcasm, continued working that theory. He confronted Marinakos with photos that the architect took of the partly demolished Hoagie City building on June 4, a day before the collapse.

Marinakos was hired by the owner of the building being demolished - New York real estate speculator Richard Basciano and his STB Investments Corp. - to monitor demolition and recommend payments to demolition contractor Griffin Campbell.

Prominent in the photo was the unsupported three- to four-story brick wall that would topple and crush the store the next morning. To the left of the wall was the remaining half of the Hoagie City building with collapsing floors and columns, and joists out of plumb and leaning against each other.

Mongeluzzi asked several times if Marinakos was "clueless," and pointed to the photograph projected on a large courtroom screen: "Were you qualified enough as an architect to know that this was a catastrophe waiting to happen? You didn't know enough to figure that out, sir?"

Marinakos said that when he saw the unbraced wall towering over the Salvation Army store, he immediately called Campbell and ordered him to take down the wall by morning. Marinakos said Campbell said he would erect scaffolds and work overnight.

But Marinakos said he did not call city building inspectors, police or fire personnel, the Salvation Army, or STB about what he saw on June 4.

"I trusted and I believed him," Marinakos testified. "Mr. Campbell controlled the site and had the manpower to do it."

Mongeluzzi, however, again pointed the architect to his own photo of the site, which shows the Hoagie City building's basement loaded with debris, with no flat surface on which to erect scaffolds.

Earlier in the trial, the jury heard Campbell testify in a video deposition that he never told Marinakos the wall could be down by the next morning and that the job would have been "impossible."

Marinakos conceded that he had no previous experience as an owner's representative on a major demolition project and did not know the national standards for proceeding with a demolition, or that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration had rules governing worker safety on demolitions.

After the collapse, Marinakos went to a lawyer and negotiated a deal with the District Attorney's Office for immunity from prosecution in exchange for testifying against Campbell and Sean Benschop, the excavator operator Campbell hired to help raze the building.

Campbell and Benschop were the only people criminally charged. Benschop pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter; Campbell was convicted of involuntary manslaughter at trial last year.

Both also are being sued but are serving long prison terms and are considered penniless.

The lawsuits contend that Marinakos was part of a chain of negligence that began with the 91-year-old Basciano and continued down to Campbell, the North Philadelphia contractor whom Marinakos recommended to Basciano and Thomas Simmonds, property manager for STB.

Basciano and Simmonds accepted Marinakos' recommendation of Campbell, whose demolition experience consisted of two burned-out rowhouses. Campbell had no city license when he signed the contract and no company or corporate bank account, or liability insurance covering demolition work.

Marinakos returns to the witness stand Tuesday, to be questioned by Basciano attorney Thomas A. Sprague.

215-854-2985 @joeslobo