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Originally published Saturday, May 31, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Another fatal crane accident in New York

This time, it was the top of the crane that fell. The huge pieces smashed into the penthouse of a nearby building and tore off a row of...

The New York Times

NEW YORK — This time, it was the top of the crane that fell. The huge pieces smashed into the penthouse of a nearby building and tore off a row of balconies and plummeted to the street in a shower of bricks, dust and debris. Two men, both workers, were killed.

It was the second time in nearly 11 weeks that a crane tumbled from high above a construction site in New York: On March 15 a crane — its tower, cab and boom — collapsed thunderously to earth, killing seven. After that, a city building inspector was arrested on charges of lying about inspecting the crane.

Friday's accident also was similar to crane collapses in March in Miami and last week near Kansas City, Mo.

The collapse occurred about 8 a.m. at the site of what is planned to be a 32-story building that is to house a middle school and apartments. Witnesses said the boom — the long arm that hoists materials — snapped off its turntable, the platterlike platform that holds the cab for the operator. Then, witnesses said, the cab and the boom flopped to one side.

They went into free fall, slamming a corner of the 23-story building across the street, shearing off balconies and leaving a trail of pockmarks as they clattered to the street.

"It was like an earthquake," said Tara Hamilton, who lives nearby. "It was really bad, and it felt terrible. I didn't know where to run."

Investigators were looking at whether a bad weld had caused the top of the crane to snap, a city official said, and whether the turntable was one that had recently been repaired after developing a bad crack.

Acting Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri said the 24-year-old crane's model, the Kodiak, is out of production and one of only four in the city. He also suspended all crane operations in the city and called an emergency meeting of experts today.

The accident left New Yorkers worrying about more construction-site problems in a city immersed in a building boom.

Some of that worry turned to anger.

"You would think there would be much stricter safety to make sure this wouldn't happen again," said Brad Barnett, also a neighbor. "I mean, it's insane that this has happened twice."

The dead were identified as Donald Leo, 30, the crane operator, of Staten Island; and Ramadan Kurtaj, 27, of the Bronx, another worker. Kurtaj died after being taken to New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, police said. The two men who were killed were the 14th and 15th people to die in high-rise construction accidents this year.

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A third worker was in serious condition with a chest wound, police said. The unidentified man was being treated at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

"What has happened is unacceptable and intolerable," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a news conference.

Still, he said the crane that collapsed Friday had been inspected properly, and he bristled at the notion that there were lingering problems at the Department of Buildings, whose commissioner, Patricia Lancaster, resigned after the March collapse. "I don't think you can say anything's wrong at the [department]," the mayor said.

The city evacuated eight nearby buildings with more than 200 apartments, but by evening, residents had been allowed back into all but one. The building under construction was not damaged.

While crane-related deaths nationwide have dropped 38 percent since 1992, they have increased in New York, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The March collapse occurred while the crane was being raised to a higher level. After that, city officials said they would require inspectors to be on hand at sites when a crane is raised. The Buildings Department ended that policy Wednesday. The mayor said the crane Friday was not being raised.

Scott Stringer, Manhattan borough president, said there had been eight violations at the site since the crane went up April 20 and 21, including one in April for operating a crane in an unsafe manner.

Many who came and went in the shadow of the construction site said that even before Friday, they had worried about another catastrophe like the one in March.

"My boyfriend would always walk by and say, 'Something's going to happen; that looks rickety,' " said Lorene Godlash, who lives in an apartment across the street.

Material from The Washington Post, Newsday and The Associated Press is included in this report.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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