By Shayna Jacobs
MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — A veteran crane rigger "recklessly ignored" safety procedures when handling a high-rise construction crane, causing it to collapse and kill seven people, prosecutors said at the opening of his trial on Tuesday.
William Rapetti, owner of Rapetti Rigging Services, admitted to federal investigators that he failed to check the polyester slings that were supposed to hold the crane in place before the 2008 fatal collapse on East 51st Street, prosecutors said.
When one of the four slings snapped, after showing signs of wear that should have immediately prompted its replacement, the 200-foot crane buckled, burying victims and smashing an adjacent brownstone on March 14 2008, prosecutors said. The slings cost a paltry $50 apiece, prosecutors said.
"This wasn't some strange confluence of unpredictable and unavoidable events — [Rapetti's] actions ... were a crime," said Assistant District Attorney Sean Sullivan.
Sullivan described a horrific collapse scene, in which workers tumbled into a massive pile of debris and were crushed. Panicked workers scrambled to find their colleagues beneath the rubble, he said.
Tuesday's opening statements were directed at Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Roger Hayes because Rapetti waved his right to a jury trial in lieu of a bench trial.
But Rapetti's attorney said the construction boss was not to blame for the deadly disaster — saying numerous factors set the scene for the deadly disaster.
Defense attorney Arthur Aidala said Rapetti has been made the "scapegoat" by Department of Buildings officials looking to conceal their own wrongdoing.
"After the accident the Department of Buildings, the commissioner, admits this building should never have gone up in the first place," Aidala said, adding the building approved in a zone meant for buildings no higher than 25 stories.
"Incompetance and negligence at the highest level of city government — the building never should have been there," he added.
According to Aidala, the fault lies partly with Edward Marquette, a DOB inspector who was charged with lying about inspections he claimed he conducted at the site before the crash.
New York Crane Company and its owner James Lomma are also facing manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide charges stemming from a seperate deadly crane collapse on May 30, 2008. Nine people were killed in that incident at 333 E. 91st Street. Lomma, who also supplied the cranes to Rapetti's company, allegedly purchased substandard crane parts from China.
Aidala claimed Rapetti and his team were "walking into an ambush that day" due to the incompetence of the contractors and agencies that had designed and approved a dangerously flawed construction plan.
Rapetti faces manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, falsifying documents and other criminal charges.
Hei faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.