Second wrongful death suit being filed in Center City building collapse

Roseline Conteh died in the June 5 building collapse at 22nd and Market streets.

A second wrongful death suit was filed Friday over the June building collapse.

  • Roseline Conteh was among the six people who died.
  • The suit says the defendants had ample warning of structural problems.

A second wrongful death suit is being filed today over the deadly June building collapse in Center City.

The suit is being filed by the family of Roseline Conteh, a 52-year-old immigrant from Sierra Leone and mother of eight, who was among the six people who died when a building being demolished toppled onto a Salvation Army thrift store at 22nd and Market streets.

"This collapse was caused by the negligence, carelessness, recklessness, intentional misrepresentations and conscience-shocking behavior" of the defendants, the suit says.

Defendants in the suit include the Salvation Army; STB Investments Corporation, the owner of the building under demolition; STB principal Richard Basciano; Griffin Campbell, whose construction business was handling the demolition; excavator operator Sean Benschop and architect Plato Marinakos.

The suit says the defendants had ample warning of structural problems and other issues that could hinder the demolition, and should have prevented the collapse that killed Conteh, a Southwest Philadelphia nursing assistant who died while shopping for clothing for her family and friends. The June 5 incident also left 13 people injured.

As early as February, it was "highly foreseeable [...] that a construction catastrophe was imminent," the suit says. 

Still, demolition moved forward with an "underfunded and destined-to-fail plan," the lawsuit says, instead using scaffolding or a boom lift to take down the building by hand.

In May, Basciano, STB and Campbell rejected a plan for a boom lift, deeming the $4,224 cost too expensive, according to the lawsuit. Records also show an STB property manager sent emails to a Salvation Army official regarding safety concerns and fears of an "uncontrolled collapse," but the groups never reached an agreement.

A May 16 email to Salvation Army and Philadelphia city officials said the delays were posing "a threat to life, limb and public safety." And a May 22 email to city officials read: "This nonsense must end before someone is seriously injured or worse: those are headlines none of us want to see or read," according to the lawsuit.

The suit says that was the last day STB and the Salvation Army exchanged "substantive communications," yet work to demolish the building proceeded "despite clear knowledge that an appropriate and safe demolition plan was not in place."

The suit details alleged flaws in the demolition, such as a lack of protection for the roof of the Salvation Army and the use of an excavator near an un-braced wall.

And the Salvation Army "engaged in conscience-shocking behavior" by keeping the store open after the breakdown in communication, according to the lawsuit. Workers at the thrift store had observed the wall shaking in the days prior to the collapse and "would joke that they expected the wall to come down."

The first wrongful death suit concerning the collapse was filed last week by the family of a 24-year-old figure skater and art school graduate. A woman who was buried in the rubble for 13 hours but survived the incident has also filed suit.

Contact Emily Babay at 215-854-2153 or Follow @emilybabay on Twitter.

Contact the Breaking News Desk at 215-854-2443; Follow @phillynews on Twitter.