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Jun 092013
 

WPVI/ABC News(PHILADELPHIA) — A excavator operator turned himself in on Saturday to face manslaughter and other charges in the collapse of a Philadelphia building that killed six people, police said.

Sean Benschop, 42, of Philadelphia, is going to be charged with six counts of involuntary manslaughter, 13 counts of recklessly endangering another person, one count of risking a catastrophe, Philadelphia Police Department Officer Jillian Russell said.

Marijuana was found in Benschop’s system after the collapse, according to police sources.

The operator also admitted to taking codeine and other prescription drugs before the accident, and he was outfitted with a soft cast up to his elbow while working the heavy machinery, police sources told ABC News station WPVI-TV in Philadelphia. A source later confirmed the details to ABC News.

“Sean Benschop finally turned himself in to authorities today,” Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said. “It is because of his reckless and irresponsible behavior that six people died and 13 people were hurt and buried under debris and bricks.

“Our hearts are still hurting over the loss of those six good people, working or shopping at the Salvation Army Thrift Store, trying to ‘do good,’” he said. “We continue to pray for the physical and mental recovery of the 13 survivors.

“It is my hope that the harshest level of charges are brought against Sean Benschop and he is punished accordingly,” he said.

Nutter said investigators would also be looking whether the owners of the building shared any responsibility in the collapse.

“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,” he said. “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 declined to answer questions when a reporter with the Philadelphia Inquirer contacted him by cell phone Friday.

Citing court records, the Inquirer reported Benschop has been arrested 10 times for a range of offenses, including drug charges, theft, firearms and assault.

In addition to those killed, 14 more were injured when the vacant building collapsed on a Salvation Army Thrift Store Wednesday morning.

Rescue workers used buckets and their bare hands to move bricks and rubble to free a 61-year-old woman late Wednesday night, but that was the sole piece of good news to come from the pile of rubble where a four-story building used to stand in Philadelphia’s Center City.

The 30-hour search-and-rescue operation for additional victims ended Thursday. At that time, Mayor Michael Nutter told ABC News that officials were confident there were no more people buried.

Those killed were identified as Kimberly Finnegan, Borbor Davis, Anne Bryan, Juanita Harmin, Mary Simpson and Roseline Conteh.

The building was being torn down as part of a community redevelopment project. The thrift store was open throughout the demolition.

Two of those killed were Salvation Army employees.

“We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life of the six individuals who perished in the wake of yesterday’s building collapse,” the organization said in a statement. “The passing of these individuals, including two of our employees, will be felt across our entire organization and throughout the community.”

Philadelphia officials were facing tough questions over whether the accident could have been prevented.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and the city’s commissioner of licenses and inspections, Carlton Williams, have conceded that complaints about the working conditions at the demolition site were not followed up on.

City officials said that a routine inspection had found no violations at the property before demolition began. Williams said that inspectors had visited an adjoining property in May after complaints were lodged, but they found no violations and did not return to the Market Street site before Wednesday.

“No subsequent inspection occurred to indicate there was any unsafe conditions,” Williams said. “We did not follow up and we are definitely looking into that.”

Nutter promised a “wide-ranging investigation” into how and why the building collapsed.

In the wake of the collapse, Nutter has announced that every active demolition site in Philadelphia was being inspected for safety. He also announced a series of new rules for demolishing buildings within his city, including requiring a prohibition on using demolition machinery on a building if it is next to an occupied structure and mandatory drug tests and background checks for those operating heavy equipment on demolition sites.

At least 20 people were caught in falling debris when the building collapsed Wednesday around 10:45 a.m. An outer wall of the building that was being demolished fell outward and onto the two-story thrift store, according to city officials.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Jun 082013
 

WPVI/ABC News(PHILADELPHIA) — A warrant has been issued for the arrest of Sean Benschop, the heavy equipment operator responsible for the collapse of a Philadelphia building that killed six people on Wednesday.

Benschop is charged with six counts of involuntary manslaughter, 13 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of risking a catastrophe after marijuana was found in his system. The operator has also admitted to taking codeine and other prescription drugs before the accident, and he was outfitted with a soft cast up to his elbow while working the heavy machinery.

Citing court records, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Benschop has been arrested 10 times for a range of offenses, including drug charges, theft, firearms and assault.

Authorities say Benschop turned himself in to police.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Jun 082013
 

WPVI/ABC News(PHILADELPHIA) — A warrant has been issued for the arrest of Sean Benschop, the heavy equipment operator responsible for the collapse of a Philadelphia building that killed six people on Wednesday.

Benschop is charged with six counts of involuntary manslaughter, 13 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of risking a catastrophe after marijuana was found in his system. The operator has also admitted to taking codeine and other prescription drugs before the accident, and he was outfitted with a soft cast up to his elbow while working the heavy machinery.

Citing court records, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Benschop has been arrested 10 times for a range of offenses, including drug charges, theft, firearms and assault.

Authorities are searching for Benschop, but have not yet arrested him.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Jan 272013
 

(PHILADELPHIA, Pa.) — After a 5-year-old girl was kidnapped from a Philadelphia school and assaulted earlier this week, community leaders banded together to offer a $75,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of those responsible.

According to police, the child was taken from her school Monday morning by a woman wearing Muslim garb and calling herself either “Tiffany” or “Rashida.”

The girl was then taken to a house in the area where she was blindfolded and assaulted. The child was discovered early the next morning, when a passerby named Nelson Mandela Myers discovered her crying on a playground wearing only a t-shirt.

“She said she was cold and that somebody was chasing her and she ran,” Myers told ABC station WPVI-TV in Philadelphia.

The child was admitted and then released from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia after she was found.

In a joint press conference Friday, community leaders and law enforcement officials aimed to draw attention to the case by offering a $75,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible.

The largest single contribution came from the office of State Senator Anthony Hardy Williams, who raised $30,000 for the reward.

“I will work night and day from now until the time this person’s condemned to hell,” Williams said.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter’s office donated $10,000 to the reward.

“It’s gutless, it’s heartless, it’s inhumane. We will find you, we’ll do whatever it takes,” Nutter said of the perpetrators.

The U.S. Marshals and the FBI have already started to aid the Philadelphia police with their investigation.

Officials are looking for both the woman who took the child from school and a male suspect who was at the house where the child was taken. Officials say they believe the girl was taken only a few blocks from the school and officers joined by police cadets have been canvassing the area. However, no suspects have been named.

“That neighborhood should not, cannot return to normal, until someone and we know someone out there knows who perpetrated this crime,” said Capt. John Darby, Philadelphia Police Special Victims Unit.

Additionally the security lapses that allowed the girl to leave her school with a stranger will be investigated, according to the Philadelphia School Superintendent William Hite.

“We are going to deal with the individuals responsible for this breach,” Hite told WPVI-TV. “There were procedural breakdowns in this school.”

The substitute teacher who let the girl leave with the unidentified woman, and a non-teaching assistant who worked at the security desk have both been put on leave.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Jan 252013
 

Comstock/Thinkstock(PHILADELPHIA) — Jason Smith, the Philadelphia exterminator who police say showed up at the home of Dr. Melissa Ketunuti this week to solve her rodent problem before strangling her, was a problem child as an adolescent, a family friend told ABC News.

The family friend from many years ago, who asked for anonymity, said Smith, 36, had behavior and anger issues, and that he also liked to set things on fire.

After Smith and Ketunuti got into “some kind of argument” in Ketunuti’s basement, he struck her, strangled her and set her on fire, according to police.

Smith reportedly admitted to the brutal slaying after hours of police questioning Wednesday night.  Smith told police that Ketunuti had “belittled” him, sources told ABC News affiliate WPVI-TV in Philadelphia.

He snapped and apparently tried to hide any evidence by setting the 35-year-old doctor on fire with paper he lit in the kitchen, the station reported.

Capt. James Clark of the Philadelphia Police Department said Smith’s mood and clarity varied during his alleged confession.

“At some points, he was solemn.  At other points, it was like he was in a fog,” Clark said at a news conference.

Smith has been charged with murder, arson, abuse of a corpse and risking a catastrophe.

Ori Feibush, who owns a coffee shop near Ketunuti’s street, said he and police pored over hours of surveillance video until they saw Ketunuti walking home from doing errands, with Smith steps behind her.

“Forty-five minutes later, we see this same guy walking past, but [he] looks a little more disheveled and he’s got gloves on,” Feibush told ABC News.

Police say that after the slaying, Smith circled Ketunuti’s block twice, before heading off to another job.

Ketunuti was a doctor at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and had lived alone in the Graduate Hospital neighborhood of the city for about three years.  Her family released a statement saying they are “devastated by this senseless act of violence.”

“Melissa’s friends from childhood, college, residency and elsewhere remember her many kindnesses, even during long hours, as well as her zest for life: traveling, running and spending time with friends and family,” the statement said.  “Melissa was a source of joy to everyone in her life.  Her passing has left an enormous gap in our lives.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio