Stephen Nessen, Reporter, WNYC News
Stephen Nessen reports for the WNYC Newsroom and can often be heard live on Morning Edition.
Four years after two firefighters died in a blaze that broke out at the condemned Deutsche Bank Building, the case against a subcontractor and construction workers facing manslaughter charges came to a close Wednesday — yielding one misdemeanor conviction and a flurry of acquittals.
Firefighters Robert Beddia, 53, and Joseph Graffagnino, 33, were killed in the August 2007 fire at the former Deutsche Bank Building after they became trapped in thick black smoke and ran out of air in their oxygen tanks.
Prosecutors argued a break in the building's standpipe — which delivers water to firefighters — was a crucial factor in the deaths of the firefighters, who spent about an hour getting water to the flames.
On Wednesday, a third construction worker was acquitted of manslaughter charges stemming from the fire. And the subcontractor in charge of demolishing and removing hazardous materials, the John Galt Corporation, was convicted of a misdemeanor.
Last week, two construction supervisors had been acquitted of manslaughter and other charges.
The indictment, filed after a 16-month investigation following the 2007 fire, yielded one conviction of second-degree reckless endangerment, which a lawyer for the Galt Corporation said could result in a maximum fine of $5,000.
"I thought as a corporate entity they would have more responsibility and thus would've been guilty on more serious charges," said Joseph Graffagino Sr., father of firefighter Joseph Graffagino, 33, who was killed in the blaze.
Graffagino still has several civil suits pending against the city, the FDNY and the Galt Corporation for the death of his son. He has also been lobbying Albany and local officials to enact stricter building codes and inspections.
An investigation after the deadly inferno revealed that a standpipe had been dismantled and that stairways, which should have been used to escape, were sealed.
"For more than three years since the indictment was filed in late 2008, the case has raised consciousness and awareness about fire and building safety," the Manhattan District Attorney's office said in a statement. "The investigation and resulting agreements contributed to important reforms at city agencies, including the FDNY – changes that have undoubtedly saved lives."
The Beddia family, who lost their son Robert Beddia, 53, had no comment about today’s verdict and have already settled for a $5 million payment from Bovis Lend Lease, who were in charge of the demolition.
David Wikstrom, an attorney for the John Galt Corporation, said he was mystified by the judge's decision to slap the company with a misdemeanor.
"I don't at this point know the theory under which the company was found criminally guilty of a misdemeanor," he said, "and I don't even know the individual who the misdemeanor is being attributed to the John Galt Corporation."
Wikstrom does not know if the company will file an appeal.