NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Four men charged in connection with a BASE jump from 1 World Trade Center last fall have pleaded not guilty to burglary, reckless endangerment and other charges.
Marko Markovich, James Brady, Andrew Rossig and Kyle Hartwell were arraigned in Manhattan Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Authorities said Markovich, Brady and Rossig squeezed through a hole in a fence on Sept. 30 and climbed 104 flights of stairs before leaping from the tower. Surveillance video captured them landing in front of the Goldman Sachs building.
Hartwell is accused of keeping lookout at the base of the tower during the stunt.
Authorities say the escapade audaciously broke laws specifically prohibiting such jumps. The jumpers portray it as a careful, middle-of-the-night plunge by experienced skydivers over deserted streets.
“We didn’t endanger anyone,” Rossig said as he left court.
He said they chose a time when streets would be largely deserted and said the jump was about the experience and nothing more.
“It’s the biggest building in the Western Hemisphere and it’s just a beautiful place to see the city from,” Rossig told reporters on Tuesday.
The men have garnered support from two Sept. 11 victims’ relatives, who say the skydivers spotlighted security lapses at the trade center site. The Port Authority insists it’s well-protected, while acknowledging that daredevils have prompted some security changes recently.
Brady, an ironworker who had worked at the trade center, and Markovich, a skydiving instructor, initially denied involvement, according to prosecution court papers released Tuesday.
But the filing says Hartwell told police that Markovich, Brady and another person were involved and that Brady provided access to the building and stashed parachutes there beforehand.
The jumpers say they walked into the building, which had no door at the time, climbed stairs to the roof and enjoyed “magnificent views” for four hours before the 3 a.m. plunge, encountering no security guards.
“It’s just a beautiful experience to have experienced. Enjoy your life,” Andrew Rossig said, “It wasn’t to punch holes in security. It was to make the jump.”
Brady said that he would most likely not attempt the jump again.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t do it again. I don’t know,” he said.
Rossig and Markovich said that depending on the circumstances they might try it again.
“If it was legal and for a charity I would do it,” Markovich said.
“We would do it again, for charity,” Rossig added.
A new video of Markovich’s BASE jump from the tower was posted to YouTube on Monday.
“There’s no question over what happened that night so there’s no reason to hide behind it,” Markovich’s lawyer, Timothy Parlatore, told the New York Post about releasing the video.
The Port Authority has condemned the jump as a “lawless and selfish act that clearly endangered the public” and said “the spirit of respect and reverence for this sacred site” was violated.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton also called the stunt last month “a desecration of that site.” He said it invoked memories of those who jumped from the burning twin towers on Sept. 11.
But Sally Regenhard and Jim Riches, who both lost firefighter sons in the attacks and have criticized aspects of the city’s preparedness and response, said the parachutists’ leap didn’t offend them.
“They may have indeed performed a public service by exposing the lack of security, accountability and responsibility that still exists at the WTC site,” Riches and Regenhard wrote in letters asking a judge to be lenient with the parachutists.
Parlatore said he and his client walked around the site and spotted gaps in the fence just this week.
Port Authority spokesman Andrew Hayes said that since the stunts came to light, ‘there have been changes made that include physical strengthening at the site, as well as operational and policy changes.”
He wouldn’t give details and declined to comment on the skydivers’ specific claims.
The parachutists and Hartwell face a felony burglary charge that entails being in a building illegally with an intent to commit another crime, breaking a 2008 city law against scaling or parachuting off tall buildings.
The BASE jump wasn’t the only incident at the World Trade Center site.
A 16-year-old New Jersey boy was arrested for misdemeanor criminal trespassing in March. Authorities said Justin Casquejo dressed like a construction worker and squeezed through a hole in a fence at the site before climbing to the top of the tower.
The teen was only caught and questioned after spending more than an hour at the top of the building, according to authorities.
Last month, prosecutors added a more serious misdemeanor charge against the teen under the city’s BASE jumping law, which bans climbing an exterior of a building that’s more than 50 feet tall.
Casquejo will be assessed in a program for youthful offenders, which will evaluate him for jail alternative programs.
Two CNN employees were also arrested in March for allegedly trying to sneak into the site.
Security guards have also been caught sleeping on the job and a surveillance system purchased in August reportedly has yet to be installed.
The building’s head of security also resigned and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the site, said it’s reassessing security.
Sen. Charles Schumer has called on the Department of Homeland Security to survey the entire site, which is considered one of the world’s top terror targets, and conduct a full assessment of potential pitfalls and flaws.
The NYPD devotes more than 200 officers, surveillance cameras and other technology to protect the perimeter of the site, while Port Authority police and private security agents guard the inside.
Ultimately, plans call for a $40 million system of barriers and checkpoints around the 16-acre trade center site.
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