Pennsylvania Official Sues Over Daughter’s Collapse Death

By MARYCLAIRE DALE | September 19, 2013

The latest wrongful-death lawsuit filed in a building collapse that killed six people says “a mountain of facts,” including photos and emails, show the disaster was predicted and preventable.

City Treasurer Nancy Winkler and her husband, John “Jay” Bryan, sued on Tuesday over the death of their 24-year-old daughter, aspiring artist Anne Bryan. Hours earlier, a judge refused to reduce bail for a demolition contractor charged in the six deaths.

Anne Bryan and her friend died in the rubble of a Salvation Army thrift store as they shopped June 5, when a towering brick wall left standing during the adjacent demolition tumbled onto it. The family said it believes the Salvation Army and the adjacent property’s owner knew the demolition posed a danger to the small store.

“Our family is heartbroken; we feel Anne’s absence every day,” the parents said in a statement. “Our grief has been made more difficult by the substantial evidence that the collapse was entirely avoidable, and that the danger was well known for weeks before the collapse by many senior people in positions of power and authority.”

The lawsuit faults the Salvation Army for keeping the store open and the building owner and two contractors for undertaking a risky demolition plan.

“Bricks were raining down on their building for days prior to the collapse,” Bryan’s parents said. “The Salvation Army store should never have been open.”

At least three wrongful-death lawsuits have been filed since the collapse, along with one filed by the most seriously injured survivor, who lost both legs after being pinned under the rubble for nearly 13 hours.

The defendants in the litigation include building owner Richard Basciano, who owned several attached storefronts being torn down for redevelopment.

Basciano’s lawyer has a policy of not commenting on the lawsuits. Salvation Army attorney Eric Weiss has denied allegations that the charity was warned the building being demolished was unstable or was a threat to the thrift store.

The civil lawsuits are being put on hold amid a criminal grand jury investigation. Demolition subcontractor Sean Benschop is the only person charged.

A judge declined to reduce his $1.6 million bail on six counts of involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment. Prosecutors allege Benschop, also known as Kary Roberts, had marijuana and painkillers in his system and was impaired as he operated heavy equipment at the site.

Benschop’s attorney has said he was fit to work and is being made a scapegoat. His preliminary hearing is set for Dec. 10.

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