Jeffrey Melofchik Acquitted Of Manslaughter In Deutsche Bank Fire
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – A day after Salvatore DePaola’s acquittal, a second construction-company supervisor was acquitted of manslaughter and all other charges in a fire that killed two firefighters at the condemned Deutsche Bank tower at Ground Zero.
Jurors delivered their verdict Wednesday regarding Jeffrey Melofchik after acquitting DePaola on Tuesday. A judge is still weighing charges against a third man and a company.
Mitchel Alvo, 59; DePaola, 56; and Melofchik, 49, were the only people criminally charged in the fire. The John Galt Corp., which employed Alvo and DePaola, was the only company charged.
It was determined that a worker’s careless smoking sparked the blaze, which tore through nine floors.
“I haven’t slept in four years,” DePaola said after Tuesday’s verdict. “There are people who didn’t do their jobs and they should have been up here,” he said, pointing a finger at the fire department.
When fire broke out at the former Deutsche Bank building in August 2007, firefighters Robert Beddia, 53, and Joseph Graffagnino, 33, were trapped inside and died from smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning. One hundred other firefighters were also hurt.
Prosecutors alleged supervisors DePaola, Jeffrey Melofchick and Mitchel Alvo knew about a crucial water standpipe that was damaged in the bank building during the 9/11 attacks, but did nothing to fix it, leaving the fire crews helpless.
“They did the thing that killed those firefighters,” Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joel Seidemann told jurors in a closing argument. “The evidence … woven together, paints a mosaic of overwhelming guilt — that but for these wholly reckless acts, these firefighters would be alive today.”
But defense lawyers said the men didn’t recognize the pipe’s importance, and the disaster was a product of a web of shortsighted regulating and hazards beyond their control.
“This was a horrible, perfect storm of bad circumstance,” defense lawyer Edward J.M. Little said in a closing argument. The two firefighters, he said, “died horrible deaths, but it wasn’t because of anything the defendants did.”
CBS 2′s Hazel Sanchez spoke to Graffagnino’s wife on Tuesday, but she had no comment about DePaola’s verdict. She did say she and her husband’s family have not been following the trial and have been focusing on healing and moving forward with their lives.