Seventh body found after crane collapse

March 17, 2008 5:35:08 PM PDT
Firefighters pulled three more bodies from the rubble of a deadly crane accident Monday, bringing the total to seven. Six construction workers and a woman in town for St. Patrick's Day were killed Saturday when the 19-story crane broke away from an apartment tower under construction and toppled like a tree onto buildings as far as a block away.

Workers raised their hard hats in salute as a van from the city medical examiner's office left the accident scene on Manhattan's East Side with the sixth victim's remains.

"It's hard," said carpenter Neville Evans. "I've heard about accidents and things of this nature but this one hit real close to home."

The city Department of Buildings said the crane toppled when a steel collar used to tie it to the side of the building under construction fell as workers attempted to install it, damaging a lower steel collar that supported the crane. With the elimination of that support, the counterweights at the top of the crane's tower caused it to fall, said Kate Lindquist, a Buildings Department spokeswoman.

Pieces of the crane fell from 51st Street to 50th Street, demolishing a four-story brownstone and damaging five other buildings.

As recovery workers dug through the rubble Monday, the neighborhood just blocks from the U.N. struggled to return to normal. One lane of Second Avenue reopened to traffic, and stores and restaurants opened for business.

At the Irish pubs that line Second Avenue near the accident scene, revelers wearing green face paint paused in their St. Patrick's Day bar-hopping to watch the recovery effort.

Michael Mullooley, the manager of Jameson's Pub, noted that one neighborhood bar - Fubar on the ground floor of the destroyed brownstone - was obliterated by the crane. He said that if the accident had happened on St. Patrick's Day, there would have been 200 people in Fubar. "If it happened today there would be carnage," he said.

The accident occurred in a mostly low-rise residential neighborhood that has recently undergone a construction boom, with tall condo towers sparking neighborhood concerns about the pace of development.

Speaking at the scene Sunday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said 24 people were injured, including 11 first responders.

The four workers recovered from the accident scene Saturday were identified as Wayne Bleidner, 51, of Pelham; Brad Cohen, 54, of Farmingdale; Anthony Mazza, 39; and Aaron Stephens, 45, of New York City, police said Sunday. The fifth worker, recovered Monday morning, was identified as Santino Gallone, 37, of Huntington Station. Police in the Miami suburb of Hialeah confirmed the woman found Monday was Odin Torres, 28, but New York officials had not yet identified the bodies of the woman and a sixth worker found later Monday.

About 250 cranes operate in the city on any given day, and Bloomberg said the accident shouldn't alarm New Yorkers living near high-rise construction sites. "This is a very tragic but also a very rare occurrence," he said.

But many neighborhood residents said the crane that collapsed had never seemed safe.