A contractor was charged with manslaughter Monday for allegedly using worn, fraying safety straps that broke apart and caused a crane to crash down on a Manhattan neighborhood, killing seven people in one of the city’s worst construction accidents in decades.
William Rapetti and his company, Rapetti Rigging Services Inc., were indicted on seven counts of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in the March 15 collapse, in which a 19-story tower crane destroyed a townhouse as it smashed into a quiet neighborhood a few blocks from the United Nations.
Rapetti’s lawyer, Arthur Aidala, said his client had a perfect safety record in 30 years on the job and even volunteered at ground zero for three months after Sept. 11, operating one of the largest cranes at the site.
“He is the expert in cranes, the go-to guy. Bill Rapetti wouldn’t put a worn strap on a crane,” Aidala said. He added that his client is determined to clear his name and show that he supervised the site of the crane collapse “in a manner beyond reproach.”
Rapetti, 48, directed the “jumping,” or lengthening, of the tower crane that was rising alongside a luxury apartment tower under construction on March 15, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said.
The crew used half the number of protective nylon slings needed to hold up a steel brace that connected the crane to the tower, the prosecutor said. One of the four slings was too worn to be used and the others were tied around sharp edges of the crane, causing them to fray and come apart, he said.
The slings couldn’t hold the 12,000-pound brace, known as a collar, and it fell to the ground, dislodging the braces below it and causing the crane to tip over and crash. The dead included six of the construction workers on the crane and a Florida woman staying in the townhouse for the St. Patrick’s Day weekend.
“Rapetti’s reckless and negligent rigging practices caused the failure of the slings and the collapse of the crane,” Morgenthau said.
Rapetti pleaded not guilty to the charges, which also included reckless endangerment and failure to pay taxes, and posted $75,000 bail.
Aidala challenged Morgenthau’s statement that eight slings were necessary to hold up the collar, saying there is no set number. He said Rapetti wants the prosecutor’s office to investigate the accident further.
“He wants to find out what happened to his friends,” Aidala said. “We want the district attorney’s office to figure out the real reason the accident happened.”
The March 15 collapse was one of several fatal accidents that killed more than 20 workers last year, including a second crane collapse in May that killed two workers.
The city’s buildings commissioner resigned two months after the March accident, after revealing that the 43-story tower under construction had been mistakenly issued a building permit on a lot that hadn’t been zoned to allow a building that tall.
The city has passed dozens of new rules overseeing construction and cranes since the collapse, including one having engineers sign off on rigging plans and a ban on the use of nylon slings that aren’t recommended by crane manufacturers.
Rapetti Rigging Services was fined $220,000 last fall by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for similar violations, including improper use of the slings. A stop-work order remains in effect at the construction site.
Associated Press Writer Amy Westfeldt contributed to this report.
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