Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., became District Attorney of New York County on Jan. 1, 2010.

NY Crane Collapse Defendants Plead Not Guilty

DA Cyrus R. Vance Jr. announced multiple manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide counts on Monday in connection with the May 30, 2008, collapse of a tower crane in Manhattan. Defendants James Lomma and Tibor Varganyi entered not guilty pleas today.

Criminal charges were filed Monday against two men and two corporations for the May 30, 2008, collapse of a tower crane at a high-rise construction site in Manhattan in which two workers died and another person was seriously injured. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., announced the indictment of James Lomma and two companies he owns, New York Crane and Equipment Corp. and J.F. Lomma Inc. The other individual charged in the indictment is Tibor Varganyi, identified by the DA's news release as a former mechanic for New York Crane and Equipment Corp.

The two men entered not guilty pleas today, the Associated Press reported. They face multiple manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide counts, as well as charges of assault and reckless endangerment, according to the DA's office.

"This tragedy is particularly devastating because it could have been prevented," Vance said Monday. "The construction industry depends on strict adherence to the rules to ensure the safety of the citizens in a city as densely inhabited as Manhattan. When safety is sacrificed for profit, the public bears the risk of harm. We cannot allow individuals and firms to conduct themselves in gross violation of applicable regulations and industry standards. Today's indictment is an important step not only in holding these defendants accountable for their conduct, but should send a message to the construction industry that profit cannot be put ahead of safety."

The indictment says New York Crane and Equipment Corp. owned the Kodiak tower crane that was rented to another construction company for use at the site. It says forensic engineers concluded a failed structural weld in the crane's turntable caused the collapse, in which the crane's cab, boom, and upper fell to the sidewalk and street from an elevation of about 200 feet. The mean who died were Donald C. Leo of Monmouth Beach, N.J., the crane operator, and Ramadan Kurtaj, who was working at ground level. Simeon Alexis, who was working inside the building at the time, sustained serious injuries from debris.

A crack in the crane's turntable was discovered in May 2007, and New York Crane and Equipment Corp. replaced it with a similar turntable from another Kodiak crane. The company lost about $50,000 per month in rental fees from the unusable crane, according to Vance's office, which said Lomma directed Varganyi to find a replacement turntable, and the estimates from two "reputable turntable manufacturers" were $34,000 and $120,000 replacements taking a period of seven months to two years, respectively, to deliver. The defendants instead relied on a Chinese bearing manufacturer, RTR Bearing, that offered to fabricate a replacement bearing in China for approximately $20,000 with an estimated delivery time of three months. "Without conducting due diligence on this unknown company, the defendants relied on RTR's unverified representations on their website and hired them to do the job," according to the indictment and court filings. The indictment charges the defendants violated New York City regulations and industry standards when they failed to employ an engineer to oversee the repairs, failed to hire a certified welding company to perform the work, and provided RTR with grossly inadequate welding specifications that were contrary to the specifications of the original bearing manufacturer. Nor did the defendants seek approval from the city's Department of Buildings before ordering the replacement turntable, contrary to a previous directive from the department.

The defendants installed the replacement turntable on the crane that subsequently collapsed in April 2008 and "also received a second turntable from RTR, with an obviously-deficient weld. Despite learning of the defect in the identical part, the defendants took no further action to ensure the integrity of the welding on the turntable that had already been installed on the crane at East 91st Street," according to the Vance announcement.

Vance thanked the New York City Department of Investigation and its commissioner, OSHA, and the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigation for assisting in the case.

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