Man dead, two women injured in fire escape collapse

Posted: January 14, 2014

FAMILIES OUT walking in Center City yesterday afternoon peered through an iron gate into the narrow alleyway behind the historic John C. Bell House and asked what had happened.

Those that looked closely knew the answer was bad.

Past the orange code violation from the Department of Licenses & Inspections, they saw a dried puddle of blood.

Police said a 22-year-old man was killed and two women injured when a fire-escape platform partially collapsed about midnight Saturday, sending them plummeting more than 30 feet from the building at 22nd and Locust streets.

They had stepped out of a birthday party and onto the fourth-story balcony to catch a smoke. The women, ages 25 and 26, suffered broken bones in their backs and were in stable condition last night. The police were not releasing names pending notification of family members.

Following the collapse, L&I cited the Khorram Group, the Main Line owner of the apartment building, and ordered it to seal off access to the fire escape while they obtain an engineer's report and make repairs. L&I does not routinely inspect balconies and fire escapes unless it receives a complaint, said department spokeswoman Rebecca Swanson.

"That's the owner's responsibility to maintain, in accordance with the property-maintenance code," Swanson said.

Neighbors said the midnight crash was extremely loud. One thought the skylights in his house had caved in.

"I was horrified by it, but I'm not surprised," said Dennis Cogan, a prominent defense lawyer who lives behind the apartment building and has been trying for four years to get L&I to address a dilapidated house across the street.

Swanson said there is no history of violations at the Khorram Group's apartment building, other than a quickly corrected violation in 2012 for failing to have a rental license.

Robert Mongeluzzi, a lawyer who specializes in structural failures and is representing victims of last June's building collapse on nearby Market Street, doubted that the partygoers had exceeded the weight limit on the platform. He said it is more likely that the metal or masonry had eroded.

"A fire escape has to handle well in excess of three people. It is no different than the internal stairs of the building," Mongeluzzi said. "This is not a situation where this thing was overloaded."

The Khorram Group, based in Devon, did not return messages left yesterday by the Daily News.

The John C. Bell House, built in 1906 and named after the former state attorney general, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Bell's sons, John C. Bell Jr., a state Supreme Court justice and governor, and Bert Bell, an NFL commissioner and co-founder of the Eagles, had also reportedly lived there.

Designed by Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer, the building was sold in 1944 and converted into apartment units.


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