New York Crane’s Lomma cleared of all charges

2 May 2012

James Lomma has been acquitted of all charges relating to the May 2008 collapse of a tower crane on East 91st Street, New York City, which killed two people.

NewYork Crane and Rigging owner Lomma escaped a potential maximum 15-year sentence for six separate charges, including two counts of criminally negligent homicide, two counts of 2nd degree manslaughter, one count of assault and one of reckless endangerment.

In delivering the verdict Judge Daniel Conviser refrained from explaining his reasoning at the trial, which was held without a jury in accordance with Lomma’s wishes.

Following the verdict, the District Attorney for New York County, Cyrus Vance Jr, released a statement which said: “Although we are disappointed with the Judge’s verdict, each case we have brought in this area has put increased scrutiny on the construction industry as a whole, and has had a cascading effect on safety practices.

“Construction companies must do everything in their power to protect the safety of workers and the thousands of New Yorkers who live near or walk by a construction site every day. The tragic deaths of two young men in this case showed the serious and fatal consequences that can result when profit is put ahead of safety.”

On examination of the collapsed Kodiak tower crane, forensic investigators concluded that the accident resulted from the failure of a structural weld in the crane’s turntable.

As a result of the failure, the prosecution alleged, the crane cab, boom and other upper sections fell 200ft to the street below, killing crane operator David C Leo and another worker, Ramadan Kurtaj, with the debris injuring a third, Simeon Alexis.

Lomma's defence presented alternative explanations for the cause of the fatal accident, arguing that two-blocking of the crane may have lead to stresses that caused the failure, with the damage seen to the slewing ring a result, rather than a cause, of the accident. Without an explanation by the judge, it is not clear whether he accepted the defence's counter narrative, or whether he felt that the prosecution had not sufficiently proven its case.

The verdict follows a guilty plea already submitted in relation to the case by New York Crane and Rigging mechanic Tibor Varganyi for a charge of criminally negligent homicide.

Varganyi agreed to testify that he ordered bearings for the crane from a Chinese manufacturer, RTR, which initially stated that it could not perform the welds required to make the repair to the correct safety standards, but eventually took the job.

For his plea and testimony Varganyi was spared from a prison sentence in a closed session of the court in front of the Honorable Justice Thomas Farber.