Crane Owner James Lomma On Trial In Deadly 2008 Upper East Side Collapse

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A money-hungry construction crane owner’s decision to skimp on a vital repair job led to a collapse that killed two workers, a prosecutor said Tuesday as the owner went on trial in a manslaughter case he says is casting the 2008 accident as a crime.

“They were killed because of one man’s greed,” Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Eli Cherkasky said in his opening statement in James Lomma’s trial, the only criminal trial stemming from the May 2008 collapse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. “They were killed because one man valued his own profit over the safety of others.”

WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell On The Case

James Lomma is accused of making inferior repairs to a crane to save money and prosecutors say he failed to take steps to ensure the repair was sound.

Crane operator Donald C. Leo and fellow worker Ramadan Kurtaj were killed when the crane collapsed on East 91st Street on the Upper East Side in May of 2008 — two months after another crane collapse killed seven people in Manhattan.

Kurtaj’s sister Fitori Kurtaj traveled from northern Kosovo to attend the trial.

“I feel so bad, my family is strong,” she told 1010 WINS. “I can’t believe this happened in New York.”

It’s the only criminal trial stemming from the collapse.

Lomma’s lawyers said investigators and prosecutors were so focused on the broken weld that they misunderstood it: It was a consequence of the collapse, not the cause, the defense said.

“The government saw what they wanted to see and ignored everything else,” defense lawyer James Kim said in his opening statement. “—- They missed the actual cause of the action because they had blinders on.”

Prosecutors say Lomma pinched pennies on a crucial repair job that failed and caused the collapse, but the defense says Lomma acted responsibly in getting the repair done. It says expert witnesses have concluded the crane fell apart because it was pulled too high — not because the repaired part failed.

“What our experts say is that the weld was not the cause of this collapse,” defense lawyer Paul Shechtman told a judge during legal arguments before the openings. Lomma and his companies, New York Crane & Equipment Corp. and J. F. Lomma Inc., have chosen to have a judge decide the verdict, instead of a jury.

Tibor Varganyi, a mechanic also charged in the case, pleaded guilty to criminal negligent homicide in October of last year and agreed to testify against Lomma.

If convicted, Lomma faces more than 25 years in prison.

(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

  • Lisa

    Have any of you used common sense????????????Why would anyone jeopardize a potential tragedy to save chump change? Hey Pete, what’s the matter, not good enough to be in union; bitter? OPERATOR ERROR< cut and dry, not experienced enough….Even his father ran same crane. Greedy lawyers are making this go forward. Mechanic will testify to avoid DEPORTATION!!!He'll be deported anyway………….

    • PETE

      I did not talk about the operator, I talked about the OWNER. The first step in a case like this, get a judge that can be bought, and there is plenty of money and pressure from the Buildings Mafia. NEVER agree to a jury trial!! This trial will last years with all the appeals etc. and fade away until nobody remembers anything anymore. I have worked more than 25 years in the NYC Building Trade, and know what I am talking about.

  • washer repair shop

    This actually answered my questions, thanks!

  • PETE

    Lomma is not even get 25 days probation. He is Local 14 and a big member of the New York Buildings Mafia. There will be a lot of shadow fencing with corrupted court members, but it will come down to: How much will it cost to pay you off!!

  • Not Americas Mayor Koch

    Lomma is too big a fish with the builders of NYC family to lose.
    Many were responsible for these poor people dying,will see.

blog comments powered by Disqus
Giving Tuesday
Charles Osgood Event

Listen Live