Who's right on inspector video?

Posted: June 16, 2013

THE MARKET STREET saga is, without question, one of the most depressing chapters in Philadelphia's long, checkered history.

Six people were killed when a haphazardly-demolished building collapsed on them June 5 in Center City.

A grief-stricken city inspector who had examined 2136-38 Market St. several weeks before it fell onto a Salvation Army thrift shop took his life - a life that included a wife and a young son - Wednesday night.

But the whole thing got even darker yesterday, as the Nutter administration and NBC10 argued over the last words that the inspector, Ronald Wagenhoffer, spoke before he put a gun to his chest and pulled the trigger.

NBC10 reported Thursday night that Wagenhoffer, 52, had filmed himself saying, "It was my fault. I should have looked at those guys working, and I didn't," on his cellphone before he committed suicide.

The TV station's reporting was quoted by the Daily News and scores of other media outlets across the country.

However, Mark McDonald, Mayor Nutter’s spokesman, said that Wagenhoffer actually said, “It wasn’t my fault,” in the recording.

McDonald said Philadelphia police showed him the video, which Wagenhoffer recorded while wearing his blue Department of Licenses and Inspections uniform.

McDonald said he believed NBC10 had not actually viewed the recording.

“If they saw it, they could not have made the mistake,” he said, adding that the report was “scandalously wrong.”

Anzio Williams, NBC10’s vice president for news, responded with a statement that read: “We have seen the video. We are standing behind our journalism.”

When asked if a transcript of the video could be released to set the record straight, police spokesman Lt. John Stanford said: “Absolutely not. We would never do that with any type of suicide investigation.”

Wagenhoffer, who worked for L&I for 16 years, recorded two videos before he killed himself.

“One is a message to his wife and his son. The other is just sort of a general comment explaining what he was getting ready to do,” McDonald said. “He was dressed in a blue L&I shirt with the logo. He was in a vehicle. The phone was on the dashboard.”

Although Wagenhoffer did not say the tragedy was his fault, McDonald said, the inspector did say it affected him personally.

In the video, Wagenhoffer “also said he had been having trouble sleeping. He said that he was devastated by the death and injuries and then he said, quote, ‘It wasn’t my fault,’” McDonald said.

“And then he very briefly talked about that he wished he had done more. He made some reference to, at some point, he wished he got out of his truck ... ‘I should’ve got out of my truck. I wish I got out of my truck.’”

City records showed that in February, Wagenhoffer inspected the four-story building that collapsed last week.

He also responded to a 3-1-1 complaint about unsafe conditions at the adjacent property, 2134 Market, on May 14, but that complaint was deemed unfounded because the demolition contractor for both sites, Griffin T. Campbell, had the proper permits.

NBC10 claimed that Wagenhoffer “admitted” that he never inspected the site that day and lamented not parking his truck and approaching the property.

“He makes no mention of May 14. He never says anything about never truly inspecting the site,” McDonald said, adding that Wagenhoffer might have driven past the site after his visit and wished he stopped to investigate further.

Attorney Robert Mongeluzzi, who is representing six of the surviving victims of the collapse, said in a statement that his firm “will seek to obtain an authenticated copy during legal discovery to determine if it sheds light regarding the cause of this tragedy.”

City Council's Special Investigatory Committee, which was established in response to the tragic building collapse, will meet for the first time Wednesday.

Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. said the committee will seek information related to demolition practices and plans to ask representatives from the Department of Licenses and Inspection to appear at the hearing.

“We’re going to look at policies and procedures that can be amended by the city code,” Jones said. “That’s our primary concern.”

— Staff writer Jan Ransom contributed to this report.

On Twitter: @dgambacorta

comments powered by Disqus