The family of a 24-year-old figure skater and art school graduate killed in the June building collapse on Market Street in Philadelphia filed a wrongful death civil suit today, according to the family's attorney.
Mary Lea Simpson, a Bryn Mawr native and Haverford High School graduate, was shopping with a friend at the Salvation Army at 21st and Market Street the morning of June 5 when a neighboring building undergoing demolition collapsed. It crumbled atop the thrift store, killing six and injuring 13.
It is the first wrongful death lawsuit being filed in connection with the collapse. A woman who lost both legs in the catastrophe but survived has already filed suit.
The Salvation Army is being blamed, at least in part, in the catastrophe. In fact, the lawsuit states that the organization was warned of "an uncontrolled collapse."
Named in the 85-page complaint filed by Wapner, Newman, Wigrizer, Brecher and Miller, are: The Salvation Army, Richard Basciano, STB Investments Corporation, Griffin Campbell, Sean Benschop, and Plato Marinakos.
Simpson was an accomplished figure skater. She had received an undergraduate degree in audio media technology in 2011. She was the daughter of a geriatric physician with a practice near Maryland.
She had dropped off clothes for donation and was shopping inside the store with her childhood friend, Anne Bryan, at the time of the collapse. Bryan, 24, daughter of Nancy Winkler, the Philadelphia city treasurer, was also killed. Bryan was a first-year student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
The building at 2136-2138 Market Street, which abuts the Salvation Army, was being demolished. The building under demolition was owned by STB Investments. Basciano is believed to a majority shareholder in STB, according to the suit.
The lawsuit states that STB had previously attempted to buy the Salvation Army building next door at 2140 Market Street without success.
The suit states that Marinakos, an architect working for STB, issued an internal letter on Feb. 5 stating that the Salvation Army store was in poor structural shape and "in an extreme state of neglect and repair."
But, STB still moved forward with demolition of the neighboring buildings, according to the complaint. Demolition was then conducted without the safety of protective scaffolding, nor was a boom brought in as should have been required, the suit states.
Records show that an STB property manager notified the Salvation Army he would need access to the thrift shop, "to temporarily install protection." A team from all parties met, but failed to compromise on several issues, the suit said.
The property manager urged the Salvation Army to respond, but the parties remained at an impasse over the cost of a boom and other issues. An attorney for STB contacted an attorney for the Salvation Army on May 15, and warned of "risks to the public and all property owners of an uncontrolled collapse of part or loose debris."
The suit claims the Salvation Army officials never responded to that specific letter.
A Philly.com call to the Salvation Army's North Philadelphia Office was referred to Major Charles Deitrick in the organization's New York office. But Deitrick was not in the office today and could not immediately be reached for comment.
Steven G. Wigrizer, the attorney who filed the suit on behalf of Simpson's family, said he did not name the city as a defendant.
"I don’t believe the facts support a claim against a city," Wigrizer said. "It doesn't track my view as the root view of the collapse. It was bad decision-making by the owner and the Salvation Army. At the end of the day we can’t always look to the city to protect us from ourselves."
In his view, the Salvation Army should not have been open to customers during demolition. The family is seeking unspecified damages, but Wigrizer said they really want to send a message.
"It's the family's hope and desire that by bringing out all the evidence," Wigrizer said, "(they) might help avoid another tragedy like this and might save another family the pain and anguish they have suffered."
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