Contractor with Criminal Background Charged in Deadly Building Collapse

By Michael Klazema on 6/18/2013

The actions of a contractor with a criminal record allegedly contributed to a deadly building collapse in Philadelphia on June 5.

The contractor in question, Sean Benschop, was hired by general contractor Griffin Campbell to operate a backhoe on a demolition project at 2136 Market Street in Philadelphia. According to witnesses, Benschop was using the backhoe to remove debris from the fourth floor of the building being demolished when the backhoe arm apparently hit a support beam and caused a wall to collapse outward onto the roof of the neighboring Salvation Army Thrift Store. Six people were killed and 13 more were injured when the roof of the store collapsed under the weight of the fallen wall.

An investigation revealed that Benschop had marijuana in his system on the day of the collapse, and Benschop admitted that he had been taking Percocet to relieve pain from a prior injury.

Had a criminal background check been run on Benschop before employment, his predisposition for abusing drugs might have been exposed to his employer. Benschop was convicted three times since 1994 for possession of controlled substances. Though sources say he had a good reputation as a backhoe operator and had frequently worked on projects throughout the city as an independent contractor over a period of 13 years, his criminal background should have raised some red flags. At the very least he could have been supervised more carefully and perhaps subjected to random drug tests by the general contractor employing him.

Unfortunately, it is sometimes difficult for the primary employer to keep track of all the subcontractors that their general contractor may employ and ensure that they all receive proper background checks. In this case, the general contractor, Griffin Campbell, also had a criminal record. He was convicted of theft and insurance fraud in 2009. Although Campbell did have a valid contractors’ license, he also owed the city, state, and federal government thousands in back taxes.

When using contractors, employers would do well to protect themselves from unwise hiring decisions on the contractor’s part using a service like the VendorSAFE program from This service allows employers to implement a screening program modelled after the one they use for internal hires and deploy it free of charge to them to their community of vendors and contractors. This service extends the steps an employer can take to reduce the chances of negligent hiring and workplace crime incidents.

In response to this tragic accident, city officials have halted work at Campbell’s other demolition sites and begun re-inspecting hundreds of other sites across the city. They also plan to implement changes in demolition and construction regulations to hopefully prevent contractors from skimping on safety to avoid some of the high costs of doing business in the city. The city council also called for better coordination between city departments so that unscrupulous and non-tax-paying contractors like Campbell could be identified sooner.

Sean Benschop has been arrested and is currently awaiting a hearing scheduled for June 26. He will be charged with 13 counts of reckless endangerment, six counts of involuntary manslaughter, and one count of risking a catastrophe.


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