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

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Debris is scattered on the ground at the scene of a crane collapse on Manhattan's Upper East Side at 91st Street and 1st Avenue May 30, 2008 in New York. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Debris is scattered on the ground at the scene of a crane collapse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side at 91st Street and 1st Avenue May 30, 2008 in New York. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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.)

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