Father of Firefighter Killed in Deutsche Bank Blaze to Shun Trial in Protest
By Kiratiana Freelon on March 21, 2011 6:56am
By Shayna Jacobs and Julie Shapiro
MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — The father of a firefighter who perished while battling mammoth flames at the hazard-ridden Deutsche Bank building in 2007 will not attend the manslaughter trial — set to begin Monday — of three construction supervisors charged with the fatalities, DNAinfo has learned.
Joseph Graffagnino Sr., whose son Joseph Graffagnino died of smoke inhalation inside the toxic building, says he is boycotting the trial because he is angry that the Manhattan District Attorney did not hold more people accountable for the Aug. 18, 2007 tragedy.
"I don't have any faith in what they're doing," Joseph Graffagnino Sr., 62, said when reached by phone last week. "I don't have any belief in their brand of justice."
His 33-year-old son and a fellow FDNY firefighter Robert Beddia, 53, died after demolition workers tasked with bringing down the building across from Ground Zero cut a standpipe and left the building without an emergency water supply. More than one hundred firefighters were injured battling the massive blaze.
The following year, prosecutors charged asbestos abatement manager Mitchel Alvo, 52, foreman Salvatore DePaola, 56, and safety manager Jeffrey Melofchik, 49, with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. Construction company John Galt Corp. faces charges as well.
Their trial will begin in Manhattan Supreme Court with jury selection in front of Judge Rena Uviller on Monday. The trials are expected to last several months, and could include a mix of jury trials for DePaola and Melofchik, and bench trials — in which no jury is present — for Alvo and the Galt Corp.
But Graffagnino Sr. believes the DA's office should have gone further — bringing criminal charges against the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., which owned the building; the city, which was supposed to inspect it to make sure it was safe; and Bovis Lend Lease, the main contractor.
"That's the biggest tragedy of all ... that people die and everyone turns their back and says, 'It's not me,' " Graffagnino Sr. said.
In a 2008 report, former Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau slammed Bovis, the LMDC and the city for not taking action to prevent the tragedy, but he ultimately decided not to charge them.
A lengthy report by the Manhattan DA's office described the conditions inside the building "an accident waiting to happen" in the weeks before the fatal disaster.
The sprinkler system had been "irreparably damaged" on 9/11, leaving the building’s dry standpipe system as the only means of bringing water into the building in order to fight fires, the DA said. Subcontractors caused "a critical breach" in the standpipe system when they ordered it to be dismantled, directly leading to the deaths, prosecutors said. By the time firefighters entered the building, the fire had created an impossible fire trap, where "thick, choking smoke reduced visibility to near zero," prosecutors found.
The building had been badly damaged during the collapse of the south tower of the World Trade Center, leaving a 15-story gash on the Liberty Street side of the building and filling the building with debris, asbestos, World Trade Center dust, and other hazardous substances.
Graffagnino has filed a separate civil lawsuit against Bovis, John Galt, the LMDC and the city, but the case is on hold until the criminal charges are resolved.
He said he would not mind if Alvo, DePaola and Melofchik were convicted and sentenced to jail time, as long as they are guilty of the charges, which include manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment.
But he said he agrees with their lawyers that they may just be "scapegoats" for bureaucratic mismanagement.
Asked if seeing the three men behind bars would bring him peace, Graffagnino said, "I doubt it."
Beddia's family could not be reached for comment.
The attorneys in the case have been barred from speaking to reporters during the trial, after the judge issued a gag order.
The judge ruled last week that most autopsy photos and images of Beddia and Graffignino being dragged from the wreckage will not be shown to jurors at trial.
The defendants each face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.