(Recasts with Philadelphia mayor’s proposed building reforms)
By Dave Warner
PHILADELPHIA, June 7 (Reuters) - Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter on Friday recommended random drug inspections for heavy equipment operators and other safeguards as part of a sweeping set of reforms in the wake of a this week’s fatal building collapse.
Nutter issued the recommendations as local media reported that blood tests on a crane operator at the site where six people died and 14 were injured showed he had been using marijuana and was taking prescription pain killers.
At a press conference at his office, Nutter said he had no independent knowledge of the drug tests.
“If that is all true, that would be significant,” he said. “Now you are talking about the possibility of criminal activity.”
On Wednesday, a building under demolition in downtown Philadelphia collapsed onto a neighboring building that housed a Salvation Army Thrift Store. At the time, the store was filled with shoppers and staff.
Six people were killed and 14 people were injured, including a 61-year-old woman listed as being in critical condition.
Attorneys representing survivors have said they intend to sue the building owners, Richard Basciano, and the STB Investments Corp., and the demolition company, Griffin T. Campbell.
One victim who plans to sue is Nadine White, 54, a mother of three and a clerk working at the thrift store when chunks of concrete came raining down on her, burying her in the rubble, her lawyer Robert Mongeluzzi said in preliminary court papers.
“Mrs. White was trapped in a nightmare when the collapse occurred,” Mongeluzzi said in a statement.
Another mother of three, Linda Bell, 50, was shopping in the store when the collapse occurred and also plans to sue, her lawyer, Joseph Marrone, said. She was buried under the rubble for about an hour before being rescued.
The collapse occurred when the store was filled with shoppers and staff. White and Bell were among 13 survivors who suffered minor injuries and were rescued by firefighter crews looking for survivors.
A 14th survivor, Myra Plekan, 61, remained in critical condition, according to a spokesman for the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
On Friday, Common Pleas Court Judge Ellen Ceisler granted requests by lawyers for White and Bell for access to the site to inspect and photograph it and ordered that once the site is deemed safe, all remaining debris be left in place for approximately two days. She also ordered that the lawyers be told where debris already removed has been taken.
Basciano, STB Investments Corp. and Griffin T. Campbell could not be reached for comment.
Authorities said the building that was being demolished had housed an X-rated book and video store.
Nutter declined to detail the progress of the police investigation into the incident, saying he does not usually stay up to date on the status of criminal investigations.
The mayor announced 11 changes in the way the department of Licenses and Inspections operates, and four more recommendations that he said would probably require City Council action. Included is the proposed requirement for random drug testing.
Among the changes to be made immediately are requirements that demolition contractors provide details on their experience and qualifications.
The city will now also require demolition contractors to provide a site safety plan to protect pedestrians and adjacent property.
“We know something went horribly wrong,” Nutter said. “Government must try to find out what happened, why and how did it happen, what human errors or judgments played a role, determine responsibility, and fix what needs to be fixed.” (Additional reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Scott Malone, Barbara Goldberg and David Gregorio)