Operator in Center City building collapse surrenders to police

CENTER CITY - June 8, 2013

Sean Benschop used a red coat to try to hide his face from news cameras Saturday afternoon as he turned himself in at Central Detectives in Spring Garden.

Investigators say the 42-year-old was high on marijuana and painkillers while operating an excavator at the demolition sight at 22nd and Market streets on Wednesday.

Six people were killed when a wall crashed down onto the Salvation Army Thrift Store next door.

Benschop's attorney says his client is innocent.

"He and his family are extremely sympathetic and remorseful with respect to what happened. This was an accident. Mr. Benschop is not responsible and we believe that in time the facts will show that he's not responsible," said Daine Grey, attorney.

Grey also says his client wasn't high at the time of the collapse.

However police say Benschop, who was also operating the heavy machinery with a cast on his arm, admitted to taking painkillers before the incident.

"Obviously if he was on drugs in any way he should be liable for the choices he made and that's all there is to it," said Marty Griffith.

Residents continue to stop by the scene of the deadly collapse to pay their respects.

Nearby business owner Michael Kenish says Benschop isn't the only culprit.

"I don't think he's the only one who should be held responsible. It goes right back to the landlord or the company," said Kenish.

There were similar sentiments from Mayor Michael Nutter who released the following statement after learning that Benschop was taken into custody:

Sean Benschop finally turned himself in to authorities today. It is because of his reckless and irresponsible behavior that six people died and thirteen people were hurt and buried under debris and bricks. Our hearts are still hurting over the loss of those six good people, working or shopping at the Salvation Army Thrift Store, trying to 'do good'. We continue to pray for the physical and mental recovery of the thirteen survivors. It is my hope that the harshest level of charges are brought against Sean Benschop and he is punished accordingly. We must also seek answers from property owners Richard Basciano and Griffin T. Campbell who hired Benschop to do the significant job of operating heavy equipment. These three individuals bear the ultimate and sole responsibility for this tragedy. Justice will only be served if Sean Benschop receives a sentence that buries him in a jailhouse forever, just like his victims were buried on Wednesday. Let us keep all the families affected by this horrific event in our thoughts and prayers, and never forget what happened that day.

Benschop's attorney says his client has 13 years of experience.

"He is very experienced. He has worked with a number of contractors throughout the region. All of the contractors have found him professional and found that he did his work with the highest regard for the safety of those around him," said Grey.

Grey also says his client's lengthy criminal history, which includes a marijuana possession conviction, has nothing to do with this case.

"He is just the scapegoat and once again we intend to prove that he had nothing to do with this catastrophe," said Grey.

Meanwhile Benschop is facing six counts of involuntary manslaughter, 13 counts of recklessly endangering another person and one count of risking a catastrophe.

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