downtownexpress.com

Volume 20, Number 35 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | January 18 - 24, 2008

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Downtown Express photos by Lawrence White

Worker killed at Trump’s Downtown project

By Patrick Hedlund

One worker was killed and at least two others suffered serious injuries after a portion of the Trump Soho condo-hotel at the corner of Spring and Varick Sts. collapsed during construction Monday afternoon.

Paramedics treated an injured worker at the scene and wheeled at least one man by stretcher into an ambulance, as stunned construction workers gathered nearby to console one another following the incident that rained concrete debris down onto Spring St.

The deceased, identified as Ukrainian immigrant and father Yuri Vanchytskyy, died instantly from injuries sustained in the collapse.

Two of the contractors on the project — Bovis Lend Lease and Universal Builders Supply, Inc. — are under criminal investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau in connection with the August fire at the former Deutsche Bank building that killed two firefighters. No charges have been filed in that investigation.

A stop-work order was issued by the Department of Buildings as of Monday for the Spring St. project, with Buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster on hand to decry the most recent failure with the violation-riddled venture, a partnership of the Bayrock Group, Tamir Sapir and Donald Trump.

Lancaster appeared at the site again Tuesday but provided little new information, stating the accident appeared to be a result of faulty formwork and not due to any reported interference by an active crane.

“They will not be allowed to go back to work until they’ve demonstrated to us what they’re going to do to keep this site safe going forward,” she said. “This is a terrible tragedy.”

Some work resumed Wednesday, including the hoisting of loads using the crane, but the D.O.B. confirmed that remedial work would be allowed to make the site safe, such as the securing materials near the collapsed portion.

According to eyewitnesses who were working on the building’s 42nd floor at the time of the collapse, workers were pouring concrete just before they felt tremors, saw steel beams unhinge and watched as the northeast corner of the building’s top caved in just before 2 p.m.

Reports indicated that Vanchytskyy fell to his death from the uppermost floor, although some witnesses at the scene claimed he perished from injuries received during the collapse. Another man sustained injuries after falling into safety netting installed a few stories below the top floor.

One of the construction workers, Jeff Kosta, 18, from the Bronx, said at the time of the accident he had been standing just 15 feet from where the floor gave way and had felt the steel beneath his feet loosen before it collapsed into the floors below. He said he saw about 10 of the approximately 25 construction workers who were at the top of the site fall down into the next two floors during the collapse, and that the deceased man’s body was “cut in half” during the incident.

“It was sick,” Kosta said. “I think they’re trying to rush and get this up.”

The victim was identified by colleagues and Kwame Clouden, a senior inspector at the site, as the worker who manned the “vibrator,” which is used to settle poured concrete by removing pockets of air. Clouden noted that the work being performed at the time of the incident “is generally a safe job.” However, the project has weathered a series of violations from D.O.B., including two for unsafe operation of a crane.

Other reports indicated that during the accident a crane transporting concrete smashed into the building’s uppermost floors, although details of the accident have not been confirmed as an investigation continues. The department believes the cause of the collapse to be the failure of concrete formwork — wooden molds into which wet concrete is poured — on the 42nd floor, and considers the crane theory unlikely.

Debris from the collapse also rained down onto the northern sidewalk along Spring St., with bits of concrete pelting the glass entryway of the office building at 233 Spring St. across from the project. Scrapes from the flying concrete covered the glass outside that office building, where safety officials and a group of hard hats from the Trump building gathered to survey the damage immediately after the incident.

The fire safety director at 233 Spring St., Joe Couteller, said he had been standing outside the building just minutes before the collapse, when he heard a “big bang” and watched as shards of concrete peppered the sidewalk and gouged the glass doors. No injuries were reported for pedestrians along the block, which features numerous storefronts, including a Starbucks coffee shop.

Firefighters and construction workers also stood outside the entrance to 233 Spring St., waiting with a stretcher on hand as workers lowered an injured individual to the ground in the crane’s bucket.

At the nearby corner of Spring and Varick Sts., police and fire officials joined a group of construction workers thronging the intersection to find out who had been injured.

Kosta’s cousin and uncle were both working with him during the collapse, but had all confirmed their safety less than an hour after the incident. Scores of shocked construction workers stood nearby, feverishly smoking cigarettes and making phone calls to relay details of the accident.

“We almost just all f—ing died,” said an exasperated worker into his cell phone while pacing at the scene.

Clouden said that Vanchytskyy, a Ukrainian who spoke little English, was “a nice guy” and a “great worker” whom everybody knew by his first name.

“For him to die where the concrete fell — he died doing his job,” Clouden said.

He was the father of three children and lived with his wife in Greenpoint, according to the New York Times.

Frank Patete, an employee of Garrett Wade on the third floor of 233 Spring St., said he had been inside his office when he heard a series of loud noises from the Trump site.

“This building has had the worst luck since Day One,” he said of the embattled condo-hotel project.

Christina DeCroce, an employee of Atlantic Development Group on the third floor of 155 Sixth Ave. adjacent to the Trump project, recalled hearing a “spray of concrete” hit her office’s windows between Spring and Dominick Sts.

“That’s definitely screwed up,” she added.

After the accident on Monday, the Buildings Department issued at least four new violations to Bovis, the project’s general contractor, including failure to safeguard the public and property and failure to maintain adequate housekeeping, with possibly more violations to follow. These newest violations join 11 prior construction-related infractions at the site since work began last May, including unsafe crane operation and failure to close the sidewalk before hoisting loads over the pavement. Bovis subcontracted DiFama Concrete, by whom many of the construction workers are employed, to perform the concrete pouring.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer arrived on the scene quickly on Monday. He cited the Deutsche disaster and boroughwide construction-related accidents as a major concern of his office.

“Too many buildings are being constructed in an unsafe manner,” Stringer told Downtown Express. “They’re definitely in a rush… Things like this just shouldn’t be happening.”

A spokesperson for the Trump project had said in early December that the building would be topped off before the end of the year. Last week, project managers at the scene said they expected the building to be topped off by the end of this month.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn said in a statement that her office would be in close contact with the Office of Emergency Management and D.O.B. “to determine the cause of this terrible accident, and to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.”

Andrew Berman, director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, an outspoken opponent of the Trump project, offered his condolences to the deceased man’s family and said the tragedy could have been avoided if the city had initially stopped the project.

“The city bent over backwards to push it through, and then the developers worked at lightning speed to get the building up while the legal challenge has been making its way through the system,” Berman said in a statement, noting legal efforts the Soho Alliance, with G.V.S.H.P.’s support, have pursued against the project. “This building was already a monument to greed and hubris; now, sadly, it will be a monument to tragedy as well.” 

Questions to the Trump Organization were referred to Bovis, which did not return repeated requests for comment by press time. John Curry, a general foreman for U.B.S., which like Bovis is also involved in the Deutsche project, declined to comment on the accident. He said his firm was contracted by Bovis to perform scaffolding work for the project both before and after the collapse. Curry confirmed his crew was at the site on Wednesday installing new scaffolding.

Some wondered if Donald Trump would show up to survey the damage at the project that bears his name. But Couteller, the fire safety director next door, said probably not under circumstances like these.

“Not for an incident,” he said. “Only for the good stuff.”

David Ramos, 16, from “Uptown,” and a classmate from Chelsea Vocational High School had been sitting in Soho Square outside the school on Monday when they heard the thunderous crash, and ran around the corner to find Spring St. caked with debris.

Ramos said they had seen fragments fall from the project before.

“Yeah, like pebbles,” he said, “and a piece of wood almost hit me on Thursday.”

With reporting by Lincoln Anderson





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