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Architect May Face Suit in 2013 Collapse

Friday, September 2, 2016

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Philadelphia architect Plato A. Marinakos Jr. obtained immunity in order to testify against two contractors in the criminal case surrounding a deadly 2013 building collapse in Philadelphia, but the onetime “rising star” of the industry could be implicated in an upcoming civil trial related to the tragedy.

The June 2013 collapse in Philadelphia’s Center City pushed the wall of a four-story building that was under demolition onto a neighboring one-story Salvation Army thrift store, which was open at the time. Six people died in the incident, and 14 more were injured.

The demolition contractor and an excavator working for him were convicted on manslaughter charges and are serving prison sentences.

The Architect's Testimony

At the time of the contractor's criminal trial, architect Marinakos, who was retained by property owner STB Investments to oversee the demolition, testified against the contractors in exchange for immunity in the case.

He told jurors he had visited the site the day before the collapse and found that the wall was “imminently dangerous.”

He testified that he told the contractor, Griffin Campbell, that it needed to be dealt with immediately, and said he took Campbell at his word that it would be.

Philadelphia building collapse, June 2013
TypoBoy, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The June 2013 collapse in Philadelphia’s Center City pushed the wall of a four-story building that was under demolition onto a neighboring one-story Salvation Army thrift store, killing six.

Marinakos testified at that time that he had not contacted the property owner or city officials about the danger. The next morning, the excavation crew was removing another part of the building when the wall fell on the Salvation Army store.

During Campbell's trial, prosecutors alleged the contractor was demolishing the building in a manner so as to maintain the salvage value of the building components, removing structural beams whose absence put the walls at risk of collapse.

Plato Studio

Marinakos’ Plato Studio opened in 2011; he marketed his firm as using the self-proclaimed “Plato Method.”

Campbell’s defense attorney made the argument that Marinakos should have been charged as well, given that he’d seen the danger and failed to alert authorities, but Marinakos testified that under the terms of the contract, Campbell alone was responsible for safety issues involving the building.

Sean Benschop, the excavator on the site, pled guilty to six counts of involuntary manslaughter, among other charges. He admitted he had smoked marijuana and taken prescription pain medication the day of the incident.

A week after the collapse, a building inspector tied to the case, who was said to be clear of any wrongdoing, was found dead in an apparent suicide. In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, Philadelphia instituted new regulations pertaining to building demolitions.

New Civil Suit

In a hearing on Tuesday (Aug. 30), the judge in a new civil suit brought by victims and their families heard arguments regarding Marinakos’ standing in relation to the building’s owner.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that Marinakos acted as a representative for STB, and therefore both the architect and STB were liable for the collapse. STB’s attorneys hold that he was an independent contractor retained only to monitor progress and not to oversee safety.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs also argued that it was Marinakos who hired Campbell, whom they call unlicensed and inexperienced.

Building owner STB, the Salvation Army (which is accused of opening for business in spite of the known danger from the demolition), and the now-imprisoned contractors are also named in the suit.

Kickback Accusations

Earlier this year, the parents of one of the victims of the collapse, Anne Bryan, appealed to the Pennsylvania Architects Licensure Board to have Marinakos’ license, which was renewed in 2015, revoked. They argued that, among other things, Marinakos gave and received kickbacks, and failed to take appropriate action when presented with a threat to public safety.

During Campbell’s criminal trial, the contractor said he had paid Marinakos a $5,000 kickback in exchange for the demolition job.

Marinakos’ Plato Studio opened in 2011; at the time, Marinakos said he had nearly 20 years of experience in architecture. He marketed his firm as using the self-proclaimed “Plato Method.” Plato Studio continues to operate out of Center City in Philadelphia.

   

Tagged categories: Accidents; Architects; Contractors; Demolition; Laws and litigation; Lawsuits; Safety

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