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Philadelphia worker faces manslaughter charges

PHILADELPHIA -- A 42-year-old man who was allegedly high while operating demolition equipment when a downtown building collapsed and killed six people will be charged with involuntary manslaughter, a top city official said yesterday.

Sean Benschop faces six counts on that charge, six counts of risking catastrophe and other charges, Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison said.

Authorities have said Benschop had been using an excavator Wednesday when what was left of the four-story building gave way and fell on top of a neighboring Salvation Army thrift store. Thirteen were hurt.

A toxicology report, witness statements and other evidence shows Benschop was high on marijuana that day, Gillison said.

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, for aggravated assault, came in January 2012, but the case was dismissed for lack of evidence.

Police have raided Benschop's home but have not found him, Gillison added. Benschop did not return phone messages left at numbers listed in his name, though he told The Philadelphia Inquirer on Thursday that he couldn't comment because of the investigation.

Video shot of the scene shortly before the fatal collapse shows bricks falling onto a sidewalk, which remained open to pedestrians, as a worker used heavy equipment to take out a front wall.

The collapse has brought swift and mounting fallout in a city where demolition contractors are lightly regulated. Officials have begun inspecting hundreds of demolition sites citywide, and a city councilman charged that dangerous, under-the-radar tear-downs are taking place throughout Philadelphia.

The city is also preparing to implement sweeping changes in its regulations of building demolition, Mayor Michael Nutter said yesterday.

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