Worker says pier showed no cracks The son of Pier 34's operator told a court that, before the collapse, he saw no structural problems that had been described by other witnesses.

Posted: October 20, 2006

A son of Pier 34 operator Eli Karetny testified yesterday that he was working on the Moshulu restaurant ship, which was docked off the pier the night it collapsed, and was not aware of any problems.

Abraham Karetny, 31, told the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury hearing the case against his father and pier owner Michael Asbell that he walked into Heat nightclub for a few minutes shortly before part of the pier and the club fell into the Delaware River on May 18, 2000, killing three women.

"Did your father tell you, 'This pier could collapse tonight. Don't go on the pier'?" asked Frank DeSimone, who is representing Eli Karetny.

"Absolutely not," the son replied.

In having the younger Karetny testify, defense lawyers were trying to show that the defendants were not warned that the pier was in imminent danger of collapse. If they had been warned, the lawyers argued, why would they let anyone, especially one of their sons, get on the pier that night?

The prosecution, in turn, contends that Asbell and Karetny were warned repeatedly over the years of the pier's precarious state but did not spend the money to fix it. Furthermore, a prosecution witness said he gave a warning that day that the pier was in imminent danger of collapsing.

Abraham Karetny began working in kitchens on the Moshulu and the pier starting in December 1997. He became the Moshulu's sous chef in May 1999. Part of his duties as sous chef, he said, was to oversee the kitchens in the Ballroom banquet hall and Heat, both of which were on the pier.

On the night the pier collapsed, Karetny said, he had worked on the Moshulu all day. That evening, he said, his father was also in the ship's kitchen, overseeing service.

About 6:30 to 7 p.m., Karetny said, the ship's executive chef sent him to buy bread. After his 30-minute trip to the store, Karetny said, he spent about four minutes on the pier before going back to the Moshulu. During those few minutes, he said, he walked into Heat but did not talk to anyone.

The pier collapsed about 8 o'clock.

DeSimone asked him whether he saw Jean Marie Ferraro, 27, at Heat. She was one of the three women who died when the pier collapsed. The Ferraro and Karetny children grew up near each other in Cherry Hill.

Abraham Karetny said he did not see Ferraro in the club.

Prosecutor Jude Conroy, in his cross-examination, tried to get Karetny to say that he saw something unusual or problematic with the pier's structure during his 2 1/2 years working on the ship and pier.

Although prosecution witnesses, including workers at Heat, club patrons, and pier repairmen, have testified that they noticed various problems, including cracks up to 11 inches wide, Karetny said he was not aware of any dangers.

"As of May 1999, as a chef and as a manager . . . did you notice anything unusual on the physical structure of the pier?" Conroy asked.

"I did not," Karetny said.

Conroy asked whether Karetny knew "anything about a crack in the Ballroom" banquet hall.

Growing frustrated amid objections by DeSimone, Conroy fired off more questions.

"Sir, as your duties, which include overseeing the kitchen [in Heat], did you ever become aware that the propane that leads to the kitchen, that fires the oven, that cooks the food, was broken in May 2000?"

"No," Karetny said.

During the week of the collapse, Conroy asked, "when you walked on the pier, did you ever see a four- to five-inch crack?"

Defense lawyers yesterday also presented numerous character witnesses - 11 for Eli Karetny, including his three children; five for Asbell - who all said the two men were honest and law-abiding.

Karetny, 65, of Cherry Hill, and Asbell, 64, of Merion, are charged with risking a catastrophe, involuntary manslaughter, recklessly endangering another person, and other offenses.

Contact staff writer Julie Shaw at 215-854-2917 or jshaw@phillynews.com.

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