Excavator operator surrenders to police

Sean Benschop (left), the excavator operator chargedin the Market Street deaths, surrendered to police Saturday. Story on A20.
Sean Benschop (left), the excavator operator chargedin the Market Street deaths, surrendered to police Saturday. Story on A20. (JOSEPH KACZMAREK / AP)
Posted: June 10, 2013

The excavator operator charged in the deaths of six people at a Salvation Army thrift store in Center City turned himself in to police Saturday.

Sean Benschop, 43, refused to give a statement on his role in Wednesday's collapse, choosing instead to exercise his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. He will be arraigned, police said - it's unclear when - and an investigation will continue, they said.

Benschop's arrival at Central Detectives headquarters, just off the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on North 21st Street, capped several days of scrutiny surrounding the Hunting Park resident. He was charged with six counts of involuntary manslaughter, 13 counts of recklessly endangering another person, and one count of risking a catastrophe, police said.

At the time of the collapse, he was working for Griffin T. Campbell, the contractor hired by property owner Richard C. Basciano to tear down a four-story building next to the thrift store. On Wednesday, the remaining portion of that building collapsed during demolition and fell onto the store. There were 20 people inside.

Salvation Army employees Kimberly Finnegan and Borbor Davis and shoppers Juanita Harmon, Mary Simpson, Anne Bryan, and Roseline Conteh were killed. Fourteen others were injured. One survivor, Myra Plekan, spent more than 12 hours in the rubble before she was rescued by firefighters.

Sunday at noon, experts retained by the law firm Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendesky will be inspecting the site for evidence. The firm filed suit against the owner and contractor on behalf of Nadine White, a Salvation Army store clerk who survived.

According to a toxicology report, Benschop, of the 4900 block of North Seventh Street, had marijuana in his system at levels showing "he was unfit to perform safety-sensitive, job-related duties."

The report found it "reasonably scientifically certain" that Benschop was an "active recent user of marijuana."

Benschop has a long criminal record, with 11 arrests and 16 Traffic Court convictions. He served two terms in prison on drug charges in the 1990s.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials sought to deport him to his native Guyana in 2005, but an immigration judge allowed him to remain in the country, according to an ICE official. The agency sought to remove Benschop because of his convictions on drug charges, said the official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to release the information. He declined to say why the judge rejected the request, noting that such details of cases are confidential. The hearing occurred in York, according to another source familiar with the proceedings.

The case was not unusual. ICE routinely moves to deport immigrants who have been convicted of crimes in this country.


Contact Aubrey Whelan at 610-313-8112, at awhelan@philly.com or on Twitter at @aubreyjwhelan.

Inquirer staff writers Andrew Seidman and John Martin contributed to this report.

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