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State Prosecutor Killed When Church Scaffolding Collapses in Storm

By  Alan Neuhauser and Trevor Kapp | July 27, 2012 7:35am | Updated on July 27, 2012 2:32pm

COBBLE HILL — A 61-year-old state prosecutor was killed Thursday night when lightning from a line of severe thunderstorms struck a Cobble Hill church steeple, sending scaffolding and debris raining down on him, authorities said.

Richard Schwartz, 61, who worked in the state Attorney General's office, was struck by stone masonry or scaffolding that fell from Christ Church, Cobble Hill, at 324 Clinton St. about 8 p.m., the NYPD said.

He was rushed to Long Island College Hospital, where he died.

Schwartz was with the attorney general's office for more than 25 years and worked under Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who served as attorney general from 2007 to 2010.

"Richard was a dedicated public servant and attorney," Cuomo said in a statement. "His commitment to placing the needs of New Yorkers above all else will be remembered and cherished.

"His work ethic and his passion were an inspiration to all who had the privilege of knowing him," the governor added. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends and colleagues with whom he worked during his many years in state service."

Schwartz was part of the attorney general's investigation into the NFL lockout last year and its economic impact.

"In particular, we are deeply troubled by the possible antitrust implications of the NFL's conduct under the New York State Donnelly Act, as well as certain contractual violations it may have prompted," Schwartz wrote to the football league's commissioner's office, ESPN.com reported.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman praised Schwartz's work.

"New York is a better place because of Richard's commitment to fairness and legal excellence," Schneiderman said in a statement.

It was unclear whether the blocks fell directly onto Schwartz, or if they dropped onto scaffolding around the church that then collapsed.

“It appears that there was a lightning strike that struck the steeple of the building,” FDNY Deputy Chief Vinny Mandela told the Daily News and Post. “It knocked several big blocks down.”

The thunderstorm swept the region Thursday evening and rattled New Yorkers.

"It was very scary, because I saw two bolts against each other," said Elizabeth Scott, 37, who lives nearby and on Kane Street when the lightning struck. "I was thinking it was going to hit me.

"I was seeing the lightning and hearing the thunder at the same time, so I knew it had to be close," she added.

Schwartz's neighbors, meanwhile, called him a "loving man" who kept to himself, but regularly reached out to help those around him.

"He was a quiet guy, very nice. Went to work, came home, went to work, came home," recalled neighbor Joe Igner, 80, who said Schwartz. "He wasn't boisterous. He just said, 'Hello, goodbye, happy holidays, Merry Christmas.' He told me, 'If you ever need anything, ring my bell.'"

The city's Department of Buildings evacuated the church Thursday night to inspect the structure.

The AG's office declined to comment.

Con Edison and its unionized workers announced that they had reached a deal on a new contract just hours before the storms arrived, ending a lockout that had lasted nearly a month.

Some 1,200 Con Ed workers were on duty in the city and Westchester for Thursday's storms, which was preceded by severe thunderstorm warnings and a tornado watch from the National Weather Service.

Heavy rain and wind gusts as high as 54 mph cut power overnight to more than 1,800 apartment buildings, offices and households in the city's five boroughs, a Con Edison spokeswoman said. The utility declined to state how many people were affected.

Power to buildings affected by the storm was restored by 5 a.m.