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Charges stand in Deutsche Bank manslaughter trial

There were a raft of hazards and regulatory failures at a contaminated Ground Zero tower where two firefighters died in 2007, but that's not a reason to toss out manslaughter charges against three construction company figures who worked there, a judge ruled Friday.

The ruling puts the case on course for trial as soon as January.

Mitchel Alvo, Salvatore DePaola and Jeffrey Melofchik - the only people criminally charged in the deadly August 2007 blaze at the former Deutsche Bank building - have pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and other charges.

Prosecutors say the men knew about, failed to fix and even covered up a break in a crucial firefighting water conduit, called a standpipe, and that was a critical factor in the firefighters' deaths.

The three men, who were working to dismantle the toxic tower, say they were unfairly blamed for a fire fueled by others' failures. They asked a court earlier this year to dismiss the charges.

Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice Rena K. Uviller noted that the raging fire was a result of a range of actions and inaction, from a worker's careless smoking to the fire department's failure to conduct required inspections. But the allegations against Alvo, DePaola and Melofchik represent enough of a role in the tragedy to sustain their indictments, she wrote.

"Although there were several factors contributing to these fatalities, the grand jury reasonably inferred that defendants' conduct in dismantling the standpipe and the failing to take corrective action was an actual contributory cause of the deaths," Uviller wrote.

The World Trade Center's south tower collapsed into what was then a bank building across the street on Sept. 11, 2001. The impact heavily damaged the bank building and filled it with toxic debris.

On Aug. 18, 2007, a construction worker's discarded cigarette sparked a fire that tore through several stories. Firefighters contended with a roster of hazards. But with the standpipe severed, it took 67 minutes for the firefighters to get water by other means to fight the blaze.

Firefighters Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino became trapped on the burning 14th floor. They died of smoke inhalation after their oxygen tanks ran out.

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