Judge allows blood-test evidence in Center City collapse

A Philadelphia judge denied a defense motion on Thursday to bar prosecutors from using results of blood tests done on the excavator operator in the 2013 collapse that flattened a Salvation Army thrift store in Center City and killed six people.

Common Pleas Court Judge Glenn B. Bronson said the blood draws on Sean Benschop did not violate his constitutional right against illegal searches.

At issue in the motion by defense lawyer William Davis were blood tests done on Benschop as he lay on a trauma gurney at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania on the day of the collapse, June 5, 2013. The tests showed that he had smoked marijuana and used the prescription narcotic Percocet before the building collapse.

Police obtained a search warrant the next day to also get results of diagnostic blood tests on Benschop done by hospital staff.

Benschop, 43, was operating a 36,000-pound excavator when an unsupported three-story masonry wall toppled and crushed the store at 22d and Market Streets.

Benschop and Griffin Campbell, 51, the demolition contractor who hired Benschop, are the only two charged in the collapse.

Each is charged with six counts of third-degree murder - one for each person killed - and 13 counts of reckless endangerment for the 13 people who were injured.

Both have argued they were following directions from the property's owner, Richard Basciano, who was not charged.

Benschop, who was injured in the collapse, testified Wednesday that he did not give Officer Gary Harrison of the police Accident Investigation Division permission to order a nurse to draw his blood for testing.

Bronson, however, said he found Harrison's testimony more credible.

Harrison, called by Assistant District Attorneys Edward Cameron and Jennifer Selber, said Benschop orally said he could order a blood test after he told the officer he had taken Percocet several days earlier for pain from a job accident.

Bronson ruled that police had probable cause for the warrant to get the hospital's blood draws from Benschop.

Bronson set July 24 for the next pretrial hearing in the case. Jury selection is to begin Sept. 21 with testimony expected to start Sept. 28.


jslobodzian@phillynews.com

215-854-2985 @joeslobo