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Phila. officials look for cause of deadly collapse

PHILADELPHIA -- The search for victims of a building collapse that killed six people wound down yesterday, and the first lawsuit was filed amid mounting questions about whether the demolition company that was tearing down the structure caused the tragedy by cutting corners.

The four-story building on Philadelphia's busy Market Street collapsed Wednesday onto a Salvation Army thrift shop next door with a boom and a huge cloud of dust, trapping employees and others, including a woman on her first day on the job at the store.

A lawsuit filed late yesterday seeks financial damages on behalf of Nadine White, who was buried in rubble but survived.

"This is the most egregious construction accident I think I've ever been involved in," said White's attorney, Robert Mongeluzzi, who specializes in construction accidents.

He said demolition contractor Griffin Campbell violated federal safety regulations and showed blatant disregard for human life, while building owner Richard Basciano should have picked a more qualified contractor.

"From what we can understand, given [Campbell's] checkered past, and what appears to be a total lack of experience and know-how, we believe that was a grossly negligent selection," he said.

Messages left for Basciano and his local agent after business hours were not immediately returned. Campbell's voice mail was full, but his daughter said earlier that he was devastated by what happened.

The city, meanwhile, began inspecting hundreds of demolition sites in the wake of the collapse. The Department of Licenses and Inspections said it had 300 open demolition permits throughout the city; inspectors had visited about 30 of the sites by yesterday afternoon and planned to get to the rest by next week.

The spot inspections included all four construction and demolition sites connected to Campbell. The city found violations at two sites and ordered a halt to the work.

There also were indications yesterday that a criminal investigation of the collapse is under way, with the chief of the district attorney's homicide unit and a veteran homicide prosecutor spotted at the scene.

Campbell's daughter, Dominique Lee, who answered the door at his home, said he wasn't there but was "mourning the loss of those people just like everyone else."


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