Felicia Hill saw her Salvation Army co-worker Kimberly Finnegan crushed by a crumbling wall of bricks just moments before a cloud of dust swept out the view.
Hill, 36, was one of the lucky workers and patrons at the Market Street thrift store to escape with their lives last Wednesday when a demolition job at a four-story building immediately next door went horribly wrong. Six people lost their lives, including Finnegan.
Hill and five others are suing the building owner, Richard Basciano, his development company STB Investments, construction contractor Grffin T. Campbell, and the operator of the crane that allegedly caused the collapse, Sean Benschop. Benschop is being held without bail after surrendering to police over the weekend on charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment.
"I was in the back pricing some clothing when I heard the bricks falling," Hill, 36, said while crying during a press conference in a Center City law office Monday. "When I heard the bricks falling from the ceiling, I felt this shaking like an earthquake and then the wind howling and then the dust cloud. ...… And I started running for my life and the only thing I could think about was my children."
Before the dust overwhelmed her vision, the North Philadelphia woman said she saw Finnegan one last time.
"That's when the whole entire wall fell down and buried her," Hill said, adding that she told her manager and her rescuers that a wall fell on Finnegan and that only "her hand was out."
Hill is represented by attorney R. Emmett Madden and attorney Robert J. Mongeluzzi, who represented two Hungarian tourists killed in the duckboat accident on the Delaware River in 2010. Mongeluzzi also is representing five other people in the lawsuit.
Mongeluzzi had harsh criticism for the demolition crew working for Basciano at 2134 Market Street. He previously described the amount they were paid according to the work permit issued by the city — $10,000 — as "outrageously low."
"It is clear they did not have a clue what they were doing," Mongeluzzi said. "They had a building without steel. It should have been done by hand."
He also said one of the first rules of demolition: Have an engineering survey done. An engineering survey, he said of this demolition job, was not done.