Inspector arrested in NYC crane collapse

March 21, 2008 7:01:46 AM PDT
Inspectors began rechecking dozens of construction cranes after one of their colleagues was accused of lying about examining a crane that collapsed 11 days later, killing seven people. Edward Marquette, 46, was arrested on charges of falsifying business records and offering a false instrument for filing, buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster said Thursday.

The accident occurred Saturday, when a 20-story crane broke away from an apartment tower under construction in a dense midtown Manhattan neighborhood. The crane toppled over, killing six construction workers and a visitor in town for St. Patrick's Day.

A complaint about the crane was logged March 4 to a city hot line, officials said, and Marquette said he inspected it. It was later determined he had not.

"We will not tolerate this kind of behavior at the Department of Buildings," Lancaster said at a news conference Thursday. "I do not and will not tolerate any misconduct in my department."

She said it is very unlikely that a March 4 inspection would have prevented the accident because parts of the crane that failed 11 days later were not on site then. The crane was inspected the day before the collapse, she said.

In addition to suspending Marquette, Lancaster ordered an immediate inspection of all cranes he had checked over the last six months. The Department of Buildings said Marquette conducted 423 inspections at 76 constructions sites, mostly in Manhattan, during that period.

Marquette, who earns $52,283 a year as an inspector in the department's division of cranes and derricks, was arrested Wednesday night, said Barbara Thompson, spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney.

He said nothing during his arraignment Thursday in state Supreme Court and was released without bail. If convicted, he faces up to four years in prison. His lawyer, Kate Moguletscu, had no comment.

The crane collapse created a blocklong swath of destruction not far the United Nations, pulverizing a four-story brownstone and damaging at least seven other buildings.

The gigantic piece of machinery fell over when a 6-ton steel collar used to secure the crane to the building came loose, plunging into another collar that acted as an anchor. Without that support, the spindly structure tumbled with terrifying force.

Neighborhood residents had complained for weeks that the crane didn't appear safe. Bruce Silberblatt, a retired contractor who called in the March 4 complaint, said he was stunned by the arrest.

"My first reaction was astonishment. My second reaction is anger that a person would have the gall to do this," said Silberblatt, who is also vice president of the Turtle Bay Neighborhood Association.

City officials would not discuss why Marquette failed to do the inspection.

Investigators first interviewed him Sunday and got a copy of his route sheet. He told them that he had conducted the March 4 inspection and that it revealed no problems with the crane.

Marquette was also listed in city records as having responded to a Jan. 22 complaint by another caller who complained about the safety of workers assembling the crane. Marquette said in his report, filed two days later, that he examined the crane and found no violation.

Other safety complaints were called in by neighbors Jan. 10 and Feb. 11, according to city records.

The contractor, Reliance Construction Group owner Stephen Kaplan, declined to comment on the arrest and referred inquiries to a company spokesman, who did not immediately return a phone message.

A publicist for the East 51st Development Company, which owns the site, said the developers had no comment.

Residents said they weren't surprised by the arrest.

"It makes me very suspicious of the whole situation. I'd like to feel that it's safe to live in this neighborhood with all the construction going on," Sandra Graham said. "If he's been arrested, I think he should be made an example of."


Associated Press writers David B. Caruso and Samuel Maull contributed to this report.