Time Running Out for Missing in NY Crane Collapse


Reid J. EpsteinSarah PortlockRebekah Logan | | Sunday, March 16, 2008

NEW YORK -- As rescue workers searched for three people missing and presumed lost in the rubble of an East Side town house crushed by a fallen crane, the mayor and Manhattan's borough president differed on whether the city paid close enough attention to the scene before the accident.

Rescue workers scavenged through rubble for the missing, who were identified as two construction workers and a woman who was visiting her boyfriend in the town house, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he was not optimistic any of them would be found alive. As of last night, four people, all construction workers, had been confirmed dead. "We've heard nothing," Bloomberg said yesterday. "There's no signs of life so far."

Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said that, "with each passing hour, things get a little more grim."

Saturday's collapse came the day after the crane passed a city inspection. City officials responded to 38 complaints at the construction site in the last 27 months and issued 14 violations, Buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster said at a midday news conference held inside a nearby Second Avenue pizza parlor.

And while Bloomberg described the violations as routine for a high-rise construction project, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer blasted the Buildings Department and called the violations "unacceptable."

"It's clear that the current Buildings Department construction safety oversight protocol is not working," Stringer said. "We can't keep going on like this."

Bloomberg, though, said the violations were not unusual and did not involve the crane, which was last inspected Friday.

"The violations had nothing to do with this," Bloomberg said. "Every large construction site has violations. They were not serious. They were ... things that we thought might blow off in the wind."

At the scene, crews with search dogs and heat-sensing cameras sought the three missing people in the rubble at 305 E. 50th St.

Crews removed part of a section of the 19-story-tall crane that crashed onto the four-story town house and seriously damaged five other buildings in an affluent East Side neighborhood. Rescuers were waiting for removal of the largest pieces of debris so they could intensify their search for possible survivors, Bloomberg said.

The dead were identified as Wayne R. Bleidner, 51, of Pelham; Anthony Mazza, 40, of Staten Island; and Brad Cohen, 54, of Farmingdale, each of whom died from blunt trauma to the head, torso and extremities, with fractures and internal injuries, according to Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the New York City medical examiner's office.

Aaron Stephens, 45, of the Bronx, died of blunt trauma of the torso, with fractures and internal injuries, Borakove said.

Bleidner, a crane operator, was married and had a 10-year-old son, said his brother-in-law, John Courtien, 47.

Courtien said Bleidner, who was raised on City Island, loved his work and "was a real do-it-yourself kind of guy.

"It's just a shock to all of us and it's hard to tell how it's hitting people," said Courtien, a Westchester resident.

At Mazza's home in Staten Island's Port Richmond section, a woman who answered the phone said: "It's not a good time right now. I don't know if it will ever be a good time."

Family members of Stephens, who lived in the Bedford Park section of the Bronx, could not be reached for comment, though a neighbor, Robert Ricci, said Stephens was the father of two girls.

"He was a really delightful gentleman," Ricci said. "It's always the good ones who fall."

Relatives of Brad Cohen could not be reached.

Bloomberg said 24 people were injured in the accident, including Juan Perez, 38, a porter at the Fubar bar in the destroyed building.

Vicky Cardone, a former Fubar bartender, said she saw Perez, who lives in Corona, Queens, Saturday at Bellevue Hospital Center.

"He didn't know what was going on," Cardone said. "He said he was polishing the floor and he noticed a roar and then he got hit with everything and then the whole building came down on him. He just kept saying that he was hurt a lot and very scared and nervous."

Sarah Portlock and Rebekah Logan, and staff writers Jennifer Barrios and Luis Perez contributed to this story, which was supplemented with an Associated Press report.

Cause of the collapse

Two braces were used to secure crane to building

Debris from brace that was about to be installed fell and broke brace; crane collapses

THE TOLL: 4 dead, 3 missing, 24 injured

THE SEARCH: Crews with search dogs and heat-sensing cameras sought the three missing people - two construction workers and a woman who was visiting her boyfriend in the town house - in the rubble at 305 E. 50th St. Rescuers were waiting for the largest pieces of debris to be removed.

THE CRANE: Workers yesterday removed a 19-story-tall section of a crane that crashed onto a four-story town house and seriously damaged five other buildings. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the crane had been attached to the building under construction with two steel braces at the third and ninth floors. Workers were preparing to attach a third brace at a higher level when the metal collar fell, breaking off the lower supports and felling the crane.

THE VIOLATIONS: The city has received 38 complaints and issued 14 violations at the construction site in the past 27 months. Bloomberg called the violations "routine" and said they did not involve the crane, but Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said the violations were "unacceptable."

Staff writers Jennifer Barrios and Luis Perez contributed to this story, which was supplemented with an Associated Press report.

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