Friday, October 31, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

L&I inspector on collapsed Philadelphia building found dead

Story Highlights
  • Ronald Wagenhoffer, 52, was found dead Wednesday night in an apparent suicide.
  • Wagenhoffer inspected a building on Market Street before it collapsed last week in Center City Philadelphia.
  • He was described as a "dedicated civil servant who loved his job."
Gallery: Buildings Collapse in Center City

The man who inspected a building on Market Street before it collapsed last week in Center City Philadelphia, killing six people, was found dead last night in an apparent suicide.

Northwest Detectives said 52-year-old Ronald Wagenhoffer was found dead from a gunshot wound to the chest at about 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Someone found the 16-year veteran of the Department of Licenses and Inspections in his vehicle on the 100 block of Shawmont Avenue in Roxborough and called authorities.

Police said investigators are treating Wagenhoffer's death as a suicide, though a medical examiner will make the final determination.

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  • Documents the city released after the building at 22nd and Market streets collapsed say Wagenhoffer inspected the property.

    "We are a city in deep and profound mourning," Everett Gillison, the deputy mayor for public safety, said at a news conference this morning. "With the building collapse a week ago, we now have lost seven lives in connection with this tragedy."

    L&I Commissioner Carlton Williams said Wagenhoffer "worked extremely hard prior to that tragedy, and he worked hard after the tragedy." The inspector was a "dedicated civil servant who loved his job" and was a mentor to young employees, Williams said.

    The city's records say a demolition permit was issued for the building on Feb. 1. The site passed an inspection by Wagenhoffer later that month, and he "gave notice of demo letters" to adjoining properties, the records say.

    He also noted in February that "no work started before the permitted date" at 2134 Market St., the property next to the collapsed building. A demolition permit was also issued for that address.

    Wagenhoffer then went to the site on May 14, after a citizen complained about the 2134 property. He found no violations and the complaint was resolved as "unfounded," the records say. 

    Also in May, Wagenhoffer waived a framing/close-in inspection for 2134 Market, according to the records. 

    No one from L&I visited the property between May 14 and the collapse. City officials have said that buildings being demolished get two inspections -- one before demolition work begins, and one when the property is mostly torn down. The city announced new regulations for demolition work after the incident.

    "This man did nothing wrong," Gillison said. "The department did what it was supposed to do under the code that existed at the time."

    The June 5 collapse left six people dead and 13 injured when a four-story building that was in the process of being demolished toppled onto an adjoining Salvation Army thrift store.

    An excavator operator, 42-year-old Sean Benschop, is charged with involuntary manslaughter, recklessly endangering another person and risking catastrophe in connection to the collapse.

    Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams is convening a grand jury to look into the case further, and the Philadelphia City Council has also launched its own investigation.

    Multiple civil lawsuits have been filed in the week after the collapse.

    Mayor Michael Nutter, who is in Chicago for a Clinton Global Initiative event, spoke by phone this morning with Wagenhoffer's wife and offered condolences. The couple has a son.

    Counseling is being made available to L&I employees, officials said.

    Emily Babay Philly.com staff
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