Benschop seen smoking blunt at prior work site

STEPHANIE FARR / DAILY NEWS STAFF A view yesterday from the front of the property that Sean Benschop was demolishing at 63rd Street near Media in West Philadelphia. The city is working to terminate the contract.
STEPHANIE FARR / DAILY NEWS STAFF A view yesterday from the front of the property that Sean Benschop was demolishing at 63rd Street near Media in West Philadelphia. The city is working to terminate the contract.
Posted: June 13, 2013

SEAN BENSCHOP apparently liked to take it easy before demolishing buildings.

The gaunt, wild-haired Benschop sat on a tree stump smoking a marijuana blunt before he hopped into his backhoe to haul bricks and tear down a crumbling North Philadelphia rowhouse a few weeks ago, a neighbor said.

Now Benschop is locked up, charged with six counts of involuntary manslaughter and related offenses for operating an excavator at the Market Street building collapse last week that killed six and injured 13. Sources said he had marijuana and painkillers in his system that day.

Benschop also was in the process of demolishing two rowhouses - one on Page Street in North Philadelphia and one on 63rd Street in West Philly - when he was jailed.

"So he wasn't coming back before. Now he really ain't coming back 'cause he's in jail," said Jimmie Young, who lives near the 63rd Street property. "That's a disgrace."

On Page Street, Lex Traylor sometimes chatted with Benschop and even has his phone number scrawled on a memo board in his kitchen.

Traylor said that most mornings, he saw Benschop smoking a blunt before he started the job.

"I didn't pay it no mind," Traylor said. "He seemed to know what he was doing and I wanted the house torn down."

Benschop didn't show up for a couple of days, Traylor said, and when he returned, he had a cast on his arm that covered two fingers.

"He told me he'd been at another job and a window had fallen on his hand," Traylor said. "He told me it had almost severed his fingers."

In West Philadelphia, Young was worried about power lines getting severed behind her home. Benschop had left dangling metal beams on the only wall standing after he demolished a home on 63rd Street near Media.

So yesterday, Young, 72, reached out to city agencies, but she said she got the runaround.

She called 3-1-1 but the operator told her to call the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections. The L&I staffer told her to call 9-1-1, she said.

"What does 9-1-1 have to do with anything?" Young asked. "We pay too much taxes for this crap."

Young and her neighbor, Rosiann Williams, worry that a strong wind could push the metal beams, which appear to be from a fire escape, onto their power lines and into their back yards.

The women didn't know that the man charged with the Market Street building collapse had been doing demo work so close to their homes.

"That's the same man? I can't get over this," Young said. "Are you kidding me? I can't believe this."

Williams, 82, said two men started demolishing the long-vacant property about four weeks ago, but she hasn't seen anyone at the site in nearly two weeks.

Williams knew one of the victims of the Market Street collapse, Juanita Harmin.

"My goodness maker, I can't believe this one," Williams said. "I was wondering if they'd come back and finish what they're doing. I thought, what kind of people work like this? You finish what you started."

The house on Page Street near Diamond had been vacant for more than 10 years after the homeowner whom neighbors knew as "June Bug" died.

Traylor, 48, who lives next door, said he called L&I several times over the past four to five years because he feared the building would collapse on his.

"I'd just get an answering machine," said Traylor, who lives with his 95-year-old mother, Ruby Allen.

On May 10, Traylor was standing in his kitchen when he heard a loud boom and his house started to shake.

"I said to myself, 'Here we go,' " Traylor said.

The back of June Bug's house tumbled against his, shattering his kitchen window. A pile of bricks made his back door impassable.

"I called the Fire Department and they called L&I. They came out that day," Traylor said.

A few days later, Benschop showed up with a small crew, Traylor said.

The city had hired Benschop from a master list of prequalified demo contractors, according to Mark McDonald, Mayor Nutter's spokesman.

The next time Traylor saw Benschop's face was on TV last weekend after he surrendered to police.

"I said, 'Damn. That's the guy who tore down this house next door!' " Traylor said, shaking his head.

Traylor said an L&I inspector came to his house yesterday and told him that he'd have a new contractor come out to clear the lot of bricks, cement and pipes.

The city has not paid Benschop $28,000 for the 63rd Street demolition and $14,000 for Page Street because the jobs are incomplete, McDonald said.

"The city is working to terminate these contracts," McDonald said.

Benschop's attorney, Daine Grey, said yesterday that he had been told that residents who lived near Benschop's unfinished projects claimed the sites "were always maintained and safe."

"Everybody that I've spoken to has said he's performed his work in a professional and safe manner," he said.

Meanwhile, L&I has inspected all of the approximately 300 sites with open demolition permits. L&I issued stop-work orders at five of the 97 active demolition sites.

The agency also announced that it will increase oversight of private demolition and that sites will be subject to heightened safety reviews.

- Staff writer David Gambacorta contributed to this report.

Today on PhillyDailyNews.com : A great interactive feature on the building collapse.


On Twitter: @barbaralaker

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