Manhattan, New York
City officials have thrown a huge monkey wrench into the upcoming criminal and civil trials in the fatal 2008 Upper East Side crane collapse — a newly “discovered” letter that appears to implicate the Buildings Department as having been far more informed about the status of the death-trap crane than they’d let on.
“We found it in an old file cabinet,” city lawyer Michael Tobin told Manhattan Civil Court Justice Paul Feinman yesterday, during a hearing on a wrongful-death suit brought by the victims’ families.
The letter is dated March 2008, just months before the collapse killed two workers as it plummeted 20 stories down onto East 91st Street, according to details revealed at the proceeding.
Federal, state and city investigators have unanimously attributed the crane’s collapse to a cheaply repaired crack in the crane’s “turntable,” a bearing which allows the crane’s cab and boom to pivot.
In the letter, accused killer crane-magnate James Lomma tells his friend and onetime employee, Michael Carbone — the DOB’s then-chief crane inspector — that the turntable has been repaired. Lomma goes on to refer to previous discussions he and Carbone had concerning the repair and concludes the letter by telling Carbone that he should feel free to stop by and check out the repair any time he’d like.
The letter is significant because Carbone and other city officials have insisted in civil depositions that they’d had no such communication from Lomma, and that they had been in the dark about the repair ever getting completed, lawyers for the two slain workers complained in court today.
“They hid this document, judge, that we have been seeking for more than 3 1/2 years now,” Bernadette Panzella, lawyer for slain crane operator Donald Leo, said.
“This isn’t just some document, judge. This is one of the most crucial documents in the case, one that every eyewitness for the city has denied exists,” said Susan Karten, lawyer for family of slain construction worker Ramadan Kurtaj.
The timing of the letter resurfacing doesn’t “pass the smell test,” complained Karten. The letter was buried among some 9,000 pages from the so-called “old file cabinet,” she said — and has materialized only after civil lawyers deposed Carbone and his colleagues, including current Buildings Commissioner Robert Limandri, then Carbone’s boss as DOB’s top cranes honcho.
The letter could help Lomma significantly in his manslaughter trial, so far scheduled for Feb. 21 in Manhattan Supreme Court, by allowing him to shift blame away from himself and onto the city. Lomma’s criminal case is back in court today for a pretrial hearing.
Lomma is already playing the blame-shift card, Glenn Fuerth, a lawyer for Lomma’s company, New York Crane, revealed at yesterday’s civil hearing — a ploy that has left victim family members furious.
Forensic analysis indicates that prior to the collapse, “various safety devices” on the crane were disabled by crane workers for subcontractor concrete company, Sorbara Construction, making Leo, as the crane operator, partly culpable in his own death, the New York Crane lawyer told the judge.
“The crane operator is the equivalent of the captain of the ship,” Fuerth told Manhattan Civil Court Judge Paul Feinman. “He is responsible for what is done on that crane.”
“I am sick to my stomach,” said Leo’s dad, also named Donald, in response to Fuerth’s remarks after court. “I never thought he’d sink so low as to blame my son, when he knows that he killed him. It’s disgraceful and despicable. He thinks he can do this because my son is dead — he can’t speak for himself.”
Category: Report Update