Warrant issued for equipment operator in Pennsylvania building c - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Operator in Pennsylvania building collapse deaths surrenders

Posted: Updated:
Sean Benschop (AP Photo/Philadelphia Police Department) Sean Benschop (AP Photo/Philadelphia Police Department)

By MARYCLAIRE DALE, MICHAEL RUBINKAM and KATHY MATHESON
Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A heavy equipment operator with a lengthy rap sheet who is accused of being high on marijuana when a downtown building collapsed onto a thrift store, killing six people, surrendered Saturday to face charges in the deaths, police said.

Sean Benschop faces six counts of involuntary manslaughter, 13 counts of recklessly endangering another person and one count of risking a catastrophe. A warrant had been issued for his arrest and police had been searching for him.

Authorities believe the 42-year-old Benschop had been using an excavator Wednesday when the remains of the four-story building under demolition gave way and toppled onto an attached Salvation Army thrift store, killing two employees and four customers and injuring 13 others.


Sean Benschop, center, with red jacket over his head, walks with investigators as he arrives at the Philadelphia Police Department's Central Detectives Division, Saturday June 8, 2013, in Center City Philadelphia. Benschop, the heavy equipment operator with a lengthy rap sheet accused of being high on marijuana when a downtown building collapsed onto a thrift store, killing six people, turned himself in on Saturday to face charges in the deaths, police said. (AP Photo/ Joseph Kaczmarek)

Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison said a toxicology report showed evidence that Benschop was high on marijuana. That finding, combined with witness statements and evidence from the scene, led to the decision Friday to raid his North Philadelphia home and later seek an arrest warrant, he said.

Benschop's attorney, Daine Grey, said his client was not at fault.

"This was an accident, but Mr. Benschop is not responsible," Grey said Saturday. "And we believe that, in time, the facts will show that he is not responsible."

Benschop was wearing a bandage on his right arm when he turned himself in. Grey said he had been injured at a worksite, but he declined to say where or when.

Grey said Benschop was able to operate heavy equipment.

"He was completely able to operate a backhoe," Grey said. " ... He operated it safely, as he always does, and he did not violate the law in any capacity.

"He has been doing this for more than 13 years. He is very experienced. He has worked for a number of contractors throughout the region. All of the contractors have found him professional and found that he did his work with the highest regard for the safety of those around him."

Mayor Michael Nutter, in a statement Saturday night, called for harsh charges and punishment for Benschop.

"It is my hope that the harshest level of charges are brought against Sean Benschop and he is punished accordingly," Nutter said. "We must also seek answers from property owners Richard Basciano and Griffin T. Campbell who hired Benschop to do the significant job of operating heavy equipment. These three individuals bear the ultimate and sole responsibility for this tragedy. Justice will only be served if Sean Benschop receives a sentence that buries him in a jailhouse forever, just like his victims were buried on Wednesday."

Benschop, who also goes by the name Kary Roberts, has been arrested at least 11 times since 1994 on charges ranging from drugs to theft to weapons possession, according to court records. He was twice sentenced to prison in the 1990s after being convicted on drug trafficking charges. Benschop's last arrest, on a charge of aggravated assault, came in January 2012, but the case was dismissed for lack of evidence.

As the criminal investigation heated up, at least two survivors sued the demolition contractor and building owner, alleging gross recklessness at the job site.

The city, meanwhile, promised to crack down on the demolition industry.

"We can do much better," Nutter said at a news conference Friday. "We will not accept the status quo in the face of this tragedy."

Nutter's reform plan for construction sites includes random drug testing on heavy equipment operators.

"If that's a factor here, that certainly takes things in a very different direction," he said hours before the charges against Benschop were confirmed.

The mayor also pledged to adopt tougher background requirements for demolition contractors, including information about each worker's experience, and more frequent site inspections when demolitions are underway.

His plan could run into resistance from builders who say they're already highly regulated.

"I think that before we do anything, before we rush to any judgment about how to fix what happened, we have to have all the facts," said Steven Lakin, executive managing director of the General Building Contractors Association, a trade group representing Philadelphia-area contractors. "Everybody wants to regulate demolition contractors, but I'm not so sure that's the answer."

Lawyers for the two survivors who have sued accuse demolition contractor Griffin Campbell — who has a criminal background and has filed for bankruptcy twice — of violating federal safety regulations. They say building owner Richard Basciano should have picked a more qualified and competent contractor to do the work.

No one answered the phone at a listing for Campbell on Saturday, and the voice mailbox was full.

Plaintiff Linda Bell, a 50-year-old mother of three, was shopping at the thrift store when the building came down on top of her. She fell into the basement and was covered by rubble for more than an hour.

"She's still shook up real bad, sore, swollen up," Bell's brother, Keith Bell, told the AP on Friday. She's also suffering mental anguish from "seeing other people getting killed," he said.

Construction engineers have said the thrift store should have been evacuated during critical phases of the demolition project next door.

The Salvation Army was concerned enough about the demolition that its attorneys reached out to a lawyer for building owner STB Investments Corp., a company linked to prominent businessman and developer Richard Basciano.

"There was communication between The Salvation Army and the attorney of the neighboring building's owner, pertaining to the demolition. The neighbor assured The Salvation Army that they would be taking proper precautions," Maj. Robert W. Dixon, director of operations of The Salvation Army of Greater Philadelphia, said in a statement Friday.

"These discussions were never finalized," he said.

___

Rubinkam reported from northeastern Pennsylvania. Associated Press writer Keith Collins contributed to this report.

  • Central Alabama NewsMore>>

  • Standoff at fireworks stand in Huntsville

    Standoff at fireworks stand in Huntsville

    Monday, April 21 2014 6:39 AM EDT2014-04-21 10:39:25 GMT
    Police say standoff happened after a man in the store threatened employees.More >>
    Police say standoff happened after a man in the store threatened employees.
    More >>
  • Local mom ready for Boston Marathon

    Local mom ready for Boston Marathon

    Sunday, April 20 2014 7:57 PM EDT2014-04-20 23:57:02 GMT
    Birmingham - Runners are gearing up for the Boston Marathon Monday. Despite last year's bombings, there was a surge in entries for this year's race. ABC 33/40 caught up with a mother of four leaving Sunday to fulfill her dream. The images we won't forget. "It was just complete shock and just sadness that someone would use that platform to be destructive." Lisa Booher will be running in this year's Boston Marathon hoping to carry on a message that so many others also want to share. Booher says...More >>
    Birmingham - Runners are gearing up for the Boston Marathon Monday. Despite last year's bombings, there was a surge in entries for this year's race. ABC 33/40 caught up with a mother of four leaving Sunday to fulfill her dream. The images we won't forget. "It was just complete shock and just sadness that someone would use that platform to be destructive." Lisa Booher will be running in this year's Boston Marathon hoping to carry on a message that so many others also want to share. Booher says...More >>
  • Police believe former student is behind threat at UNA

    Police believe former student is behind threat at UNA

    Sunday, April 20 2014 7:56 PM EDT2014-04-20 23:56:20 GMT
    University of North Alabama police say that 22-year-old Brian Mitchell of Madison, Alabama surrendered to police on Friday. Police say Mitchell is behind a message posted on social media site, Yik Yak,More >>
    University of North Alabama police say that 22-year-old from of Madison, Alabama surrendered to police on Friday.More >>
  • Birmingham Area NewsMore>>

  • Crime Stoppers April 20: Most Wanted

    Crime Stoppers April 20: Most Wanted

    Sunday, April 20 2014 11:00 PM EDT2014-04-21 03:00:16 GMT
    "I'm Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale.Each week, we're making progress in our efforts to find wanted suspects. This week, we're working hard to find these people. If you've seen them, give Crime StoppersMore >>
    Each week, detectives are making progress in our efforts to find wanted suspects. This week, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office is working hard to find these people. If you've seen them, give Crime Stoppers a call.More >>
  • ABI investigate shooting

    ABI investigate shooting

    Sunday, April 20 2014 9:11 PM EDT2014-04-21 01:11:58 GMT
    Officers investigate a shooting in the parking lot of Papa Sias Sports Grille. Helena and Pelham police were on the scene around 8:30 Saturday. More >>
    Officers investigate a shooting in the parking lot of Papa Sias Sports Grille. Helena and Pelham police were on the scene around 8:30 Saturday. More >>
  • Fairfield police: burned body dumped at house, crime committed elsewhere

    Fairfield police: burned body dumped at house, crime committed elsewhere

    Sunday, April 20 2014 8:02 PM EDT2014-04-21 00:02:53 GMT
    The burned body found in a the backyard of a Fairfield house has not been identified. But police say it was a woman. They also believe there is another crime scene.More >>
    The burned body found in a the backyard of a Fairfield house has not been identified. But police say it was a woman. They also believe there is another crime scene.More >>
  • Anniston - Gadsden Area NewsMore>>

  • Civil War movie "Union" filming in Montevallo

    Civil War movie "Union" filming in Montevallo

    Sunday, April 20 2014 7:54 PM EDT2014-04-20 23:54:35 GMT
    An independent film crew is in Montevallo this weekend to shoot scenes for an upcoming feature.The movie is titled "Union" and is about a "female" confederate soldier in the civil war.Whitney Hamilton wrote the screenplay. She said she wrote a play about a decade ago that told the story of Joan of Arc, and wanted to write another script about some female combatants from the United States.She researched the subject and learned more than 400 women disguised themselves as men during the Civil Wa...More >>
    An independent film crew is in Montevallo this weekend to shoot scenes for an upcoming feature.The movie is titled "Union" and is about a "female" confederate soldier in the civil war.Whitney Hamilton wrote the screenplay. She said she wrote a play about a decade ago that told the story of Joan of Arc, and wanted to write another script about some female combatants from the United States.She researched the subject and learned more than 400 women disguised themselves as men during the Civil Wa...More >>
  • Active shooter drill and training at Etowah County Judicial Center

    Active shooter drill and training at Etowah County Judicial Center

    Friday, April 18 2014 7:04 PM EDT2014-04-18 23:04:12 GMT
    Etowah County Judicial Center staff barricaded themselves in their offices Friday morning, as security deputies searched for armed intruders. The guns were bright orange and solid rubber, as the scenarioMore >>
    Etowah County Judicial Center staff barricaded themselves in their offices Friday morning, as security deputies searched for armed intruders. The guns were bright orange and solid rubber, as the scenarioMore >>
  • Active shooter drill in Etowah County today

    Active shooter drill in Etowah County today

    Friday, April 18 2014 5:22 AM EDT2014-04-18 09:22:38 GMT
    An active shooter drill will take place at the Etowah County Courthouse Friday, April 18, 2014.It's part of training for law enforcement. A full-scale simulation of an active shooter inside the JudicialMore >>
     A full-scale simulation of an active shooter inside the Judicial Building will allow law enforcement officers to prepare for a real life situation.More >>
Most Popular
Stories
Videos
loading...
  • Latest StoriesMore>>

  • Standoff at fireworks stand in Huntsville

    Standoff at fireworks stand in Huntsville

    Monday, April 21 2014 6:39 AM EDT2014-04-21 10:39:25 GMT
    Police say standoff happened after a man in the store threatened employees.More >>
    Police say standoff happened after a man in the store threatened employees.
    More >>
  • ABI investigate shooting

    ABI investigate shooting

    Sunday, April 20 2014 9:11 PM EDT2014-04-21 01:11:58 GMT
    Officers investigate a shooting in the parking lot of Papa Sias Sports Grille. Helena and Pelham police were on the scene around 8:30 Saturday. More >>
    Officers investigate a shooting in the parking lot of Papa Sias Sports Grille. Helena and Pelham police were on the scene around 8:30 Saturday. More >>
  • Fairfield police: burned body dumped at house, crime committed elsewhere

    Fairfield police: burned body dumped at house, crime committed elsewhere

    Sunday, April 20 2014 8:02 PM EDT2014-04-21 00:02:53 GMT
    The burned body found in a the backyard of a Fairfield house has not been identified. But police say it was a woman. They also believe there is another crime scene.More >>
    The burned body found in a the backyard of a Fairfield house has not been identified. But police say it was a woman. They also believe there is another crime scene.More >>
  • Local mom ready for Boston Marathon

    Local mom ready for Boston Marathon

    Sunday, April 20 2014 7:57 PM EDT2014-04-20 23:57:02 GMT
    Birmingham - Runners are gearing up for the Boston Marathon Monday. Despite last year's bombings, there was a surge in entries for this year's race. ABC 33/40 caught up with a mother of four leaving Sunday to fulfill her dream. The images we won't forget. "It was just complete shock and just sadness that someone would use that platform to be destructive." Lisa Booher will be running in this year's Boston Marathon hoping to carry on a message that so many others also want to share. Booher says...More >>
    Birmingham - Runners are gearing up for the Boston Marathon Monday. Despite last year's bombings, there was a surge in entries for this year's race. ABC 33/40 caught up with a mother of four leaving Sunday to fulfill her dream. The images we won't forget. "It was just complete shock and just sadness that someone would use that platform to be destructive." Lisa Booher will be running in this year's Boston Marathon hoping to carry on a message that so many others also want to share. Booher says...More >>
  • Police believe former student is behind threat at UNA

    Police believe former student is behind threat at UNA

    Sunday, April 20 2014 7:56 PM EDT2014-04-20 23:56:20 GMT
    University of North Alabama police say that 22-year-old Brian Mitchell of Madison, Alabama surrendered to police on Friday. Police say Mitchell is behind a message posted on social media site, Yik Yak,More >>
    University of North Alabama police say that 22-year-old from of Madison, Alabama surrendered to police on Friday.More >>
  • Civil War movie "Union" filming in Montevallo

    Civil War movie "Union" filming in Montevallo

    Sunday, April 20 2014 7:54 PM EDT2014-04-20 23:54:35 GMT
    An independent film crew is in Montevallo this weekend to shoot scenes for an upcoming feature.The movie is titled "Union" and is about a "female" confederate soldier in the civil war.Whitney Hamilton wrote the screenplay. She said she wrote a play about a decade ago that told the story of Joan of Arc, and wanted to write another script about some female combatants from the United States.She researched the subject and learned more than 400 women disguised themselves as men during the Civil Wa...More >>
    An independent film crew is in Montevallo this weekend to shoot scenes for an upcoming feature.The movie is titled "Union" and is about a "female" confederate soldier in the civil war.Whitney Hamilton wrote the screenplay. She said she wrote a play about a decade ago that told the story of Joan of Arc, and wanted to write another script about some female combatants from the United States.She researched the subject and learned more than 400 women disguised themselves as men during the Civil Wa...More >>
  • UNA social media threat suspect turns himself in

    UNA social media threat suspect turns himself in

    Sunday, April 20 2014 7:54 PM EDT2014-04-20 23:54:13 GMT
    One student turns himself into the University of North Alabama police after a threat on the social media app “yik yak”. Police say the online threat was aimed at the University.Brian Mitchell, 22, turned himself in and now faces terrorist threat charges. Police say Mitchell posted that he was going to "shoot up UNA". Police worked with "yik yak" to track Mitchell down, that's when he admitted that he posted the threat and stated he would turn himself in. Mitchell will now have to face the uni...More >>
    One student turns himself into the University of North Alabama police after a threat on the social media app “yik yak”. Police say the online threat was aimed at the University.Brian Mitchell, 22, turned himself in and now faces terrorist threat charges. Police say Mitchell posted that he was going to "shoot up UNA". Police worked with "yik yak" to track Mitchell down, that's when he admitted that he posted the threat and stated he would turn himself in. Mitchell will now have to face the uni...More >>
  • Police shoot and wound a man outside a Helena restaurant

    Police shoot and wound a man outside a Helena restaurant

    Sunday, April 20 2014 7:53 PM EDT2014-04-20 23:53:20 GMT
    Helena police shot and wounded a man last night in the parking lot of Papa Saia's Sports Grille. Officers were called to the restaurant after receiving reports of a man brandishing a gun. Helena Detective Sgt. Chris Rollan says no one in the restaurant was in any danger. The incident apparently began as a domestic dispute and escalated when officers arrived. Pelham police also responded to assist. The suspect was taken to the hospital for treatment. The investigation has been turned over to t...More >>
    Helena police shot and wounded a man last night in the parking lot of Papa Saia's Sports Grille. Officers were called to the restaurant after receiving reports of a man brandishing a gun. Helena Detective Sgt. Chris Rollan says no one in the restaurant was in any danger. The incident apparently began as a domestic dispute and escalated when officers arrived. Pelham police also responded to assist. The suspect was taken to the hospital for treatment. The investigation has been turned over to t...More >>