City IDs 6 killed in collapse as clean-up begins

ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Workers knock down what remains of the Salvation Army thrift store yesterday at 22nd and Market streets.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Workers knock down what remains of the Salvation Army thrift store yesterday at 22nd and Market streets.
Posted: June 07, 2013

HEATHER SIZEMORE arrived yesterday, bouquet in hand, almost unnoticed.

All news cameras were on the collapsed Salvation Army thrift store at 22nd and Market streets, eyeing an excavator's rubble removal. Sizemore handed the flowers to a firefighter on the fringes, as a friend hung a poster plastered with pictures.

And with that quiet tribute, Philadelphia got its first look at one victim lost to a bungled demolition project that left six dead and 13 injured.

On the poster, Kimberly Finnegan, a brunette beauty with a contagious smile, snuggled in her fiancée's embrace, goofed under an Asian paddy hat, showed off a new manicure, lounged at the beach.

"We just wanted to remember our friend Kim," said Sizemore, of West Mount Airy. "It's just so sad, because it makes you realize we're not in charge."

Within hours, Philadelphia would soon learn the names of the five others lost when a crane pulled a support beam from an unstable four-story brick building it was demolishing, sending tons of twisted metal, shattered glass and heavy bricks thundering into the neighboring thrift store.

Mayor Nutter's office identified the dead as store employees Borbor Davis, 68, who had worked there for five years, and Finnegan, 35, whose first day of work was Wednesday and who had recently gotten engaged to Common Pleas Judge Robert Coleman's son. The other victims were shoppers Juanita Harmin, 75, a mother of four and retired secretary; Anne Bryan, 24, a Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts student and daughter of City Treasurer Nancy Winkler; Roseline Conteh, 52, a mother of nine who worked in nursing; and Mary Simpson, age unavailable.

The injured were: Nadine White, Susan Randall, Betty Brown, Shirley Ball, Linda Bell, Jennifer Reynolds, Margarita Agosta, Richard Stasiorowski, Rosemary Kreutzberg, Rodney Geddis, Felicia Hill, Daniel Johnson and Myra Plekan.

White, 54, a store employee who was trapped for about 10 minutes before a firefighter rescued her, was the first to file a lawsuit against the demolition contractor and the site's owner. White, a mother of three who had worked at the store for eight months, was treated at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and released Wednesday.

Her attorney, Robert Mongeluzzi, plans to be in Common Pleas Court this morning, asking a judge to issue an emergency order allowing engineering experts from the law firm to immediately inspect the site.

Mongeluzzi, asked if he will also sue the city, said he will "let the chips fall where they may."

He further demanded that the city suspend all demolition projects, if they adjoin an occupied property.

"Every site should be immediately inspected - or reinspected - to ensure that there isn't another fatal collapse waiting to happen," he said.

City officials did suspend the work of contractor Griffin T. Campbell, whose crew's work led to the collapse, at other projects he had in the city. But they did not respond to Mongeluzzi's demand for a more widespread demolition moratorium.

Rather, Nutter said that several city and federal agencies are investigating the collapse, including the city Fire, Police and Licenses and Inspections departments and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

"We will fully investigate this tragedy and get to the bottom of what happened, how, when and why," Nutter said. "We will determine further actions that must be taken to prevent such tragedies in the future. The safety of our citizens must always be our No. 1 priority."

By late afternoon, officials ended their search for additional victims and shifted their focus to site cleanup. A steady parade of backhoes, dump trucks and other heavy machinery filled trash bins, and an excavator noisily knocked over the thrift store's front wall, including its iconic sign, just after 2 p.m. yesterday.

"This is so heartbreaking," said onlooker Natasha White, 57, of West Philly, who works in a deli down the street and shopped at the thrift shop a few times a week. "I would have been there at 1:30 [Wednesday] when I get off work. Wednesdays were always crowded, because it was half-price day. They have good, quality stuff, and the workers were nice, always friendly."

The demolition next door made her nervous, long before it went fatally awry, White said. "It looked like a strong wind could have just blown it right over," she said.

As Juan Levy watched the debris removal from behind police tape yesterday, he couldn't help but shake his head.

"Idiots!" he said of the demolition crew whose work led to the collapse.

Levy is an architect who does mostly residential and energy-efficiency work. He was on a business trip in Ecuador on Wednesday when he heard about the Philly collapse - and caught updates at every stop on his way home yesterday.

"I saw it on every feed around the world. This is the kind of thing that gives the city a black eye," Levy said.


On Twitter: @DanaDiFilippo

Blog: phillyconfidential.com

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