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Crane Co. Owner Indicted in Fatal Collapse

A crane company owner was indicted on manslaughter and other charges stemming from the collapse of one of his 200-foot rigs that killed two workers in 2008, prosecutors said Monday.

The indictment names James Lomma and two of his companies, New York Crane & Equipment Corp. and J.F. Lomma Inc. A former mechanic with New York Crane & Equipment also was indicted.

Defense lawyers didn't immediately return calls Monday.

The charges represent the first criminal fallout from the accident, which heightened fears about high-rise construction in the city. The giant rig collapsed and smashed into a Manhattan apartment building little more than two months after another crane - also owned by Lomma's company - collapsed elsewhere in Manhattan and killed seven people.

The crane snapped and fell apart while workers were building a 32-story condominium building on Manhattan's Upper East Side. The collapse killed the crane operator, Donald C. Leo, 30, and another worker, 27-year-old Ramadan Kurtaj. A third construction worker was seriously hurt, and the plunging crane destroyed a penthouse apartment across the street and sheared balconies off the apartment building.

District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said Monday's indictments were expected to end his office's investigations into the crane collapses.

Vance said the company wanted the crane repaired quickly to keep it generating income from construction contractors who rented the equipment.

"Failing to keep the crane operational would have cost the defendants about $50,000 a month in rental fees, a price the defendants must have felt was too much to pay," he said. "Today, two families are paying a much greater price."

City buildings officials approved putting the crane back in service with the repaired turntable, but authorities say the company misled inspectors about testing on the part.

City and federal investigators have focused on a failed weld on the crane's turntable, which helps the rig swivel and change direction.

The turntable had been removed in May 2007 from another crane because it was cracked; New York Crane & Equipment had a welding company repair it, and then installed it in the crane that collapsed, the company's insurer has said.

New York Crane hired a Chinese company to do the weld despite a warning from the company that its welding wasn't good, according to lawsuits filed by the slain workers' families. The Chinese firm had agreed to do the work for a sixth of the price and twice as fast as an Ohio bidder, according to the ongoing lawsuits.

"My son was killed for one reason and one reason only: greed," Leo's father and fellow crane operator Donald R. Leo said in a statement released Friday by his lawyer, Bernadette Panzella.

The May 30, 2008, accident came as city officials were scrambling to step up crane safety in the wake of the crane collapse only months earlier near the United Nations.

In that disaster, a 19-story crane fell as it was being lengthened, demolishing a townhouse and killing six construction workers and a tourist on March 15, 2008. That accident was blamed on faulty rigging.

Rigging contractor William Rapetti and his company have been charged with manslaughter in that collapse. A former building inspector, Edward Marquette, faces charges including tampering with public records after being accused of lying about examining the crane 11 days before it collapsed. They have pleaded not guilty.

Since the crane collapses, the Buildings Department has increased training requirements for crane operators and inspectors, expanded inspectors' checklists from 35 items to more than 200, and required engineers sign off on rigging plans, among other steps.

While more than 20 of the tall rigs known as tower cranes are currently at work around the city, "all of these cranes have been subject to our increased requirements," agency spokesman Tony Sclafani said Friday.

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