“It’s a license to kill,” Maria Leo said outside the courtroom after the verdict, reported the New York Times. Her son Donald Leo, 30, was the crane operator and one of two workers killed. The other, Ramadan Kurtaj, 27, was crushed by the falling crane while doing plumbing work. He died later in the hospital.
“We are beyond outraged,” Kurtaj’s cousin Xhevaire Sinanaj told the Militant. “How much more proof do you need?”
The verdict came three weeks after a crane collapse in Manhattan April 3 killed one and injured three. Another construction worker was killed on the job the same day in Brooklyn.
The crane collapse that killed Leo and Kurtaj occurred May 30, 2008, during work on a high-rise building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The turntable, a metal bearing that allows the boom and cab to pivot, cracked. Everything above, including the operator’s cab and the boom, crashed into a nearby building and then fell 140 feet.
The cracked bearing was first discovered in 2007 and sent out for repair. Four weeks after it was put back into operation it cracked again, causing the collapse.
Prosecutors argued the repair was so shabby, it was an accident waiting to happen. Lomma blamed Leo, claiming he was trying to lift something too heavy.
Tibor Varganyi, a former employee who pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide in October for the collapse, testified against Lomma, saying he was under pressure from his boss to get the job done fast.
Lomma, owner of the New York Crane and Equipment Corp., one of the biggest crane providers in the Northeast, was charged with two counts of manslaughter, two counts of criminally negligent homicide and one count each of assault and reckless endangerment. He was cleared of all charges by Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Daniel Conviser.
“These corporate guys always do that, they pick a judge,” said Bernadette Panzella, lawyer for the Leo family.
“It’s a shameful verdict,” Susan Karten, lawyer for the Kurtaj family, said in a phone interview.
On March 15, 2008, two and a half months before the death of Leo and Kurtaj, a craned owned by Lomma’s company collapsed, also on Manhattan’s East Side, killing seven and injuring two dozen. In 2010 rigging contractor William Rapetti was charged with manslaughter and four other counts for allegedly using too few and faulty straps. He was also acquitted by a judge in a nonjury trial.
Donald Leo Sr., Leo’s father, is also a crane operator. Lomma “ran his cranes from one job to the next, with no preventative maintenance, only fixing things when they broke on the job site,” he told the New York Post. “He literally got away with murder.”
The day of the acquittal, Lomma taunted the victim’s families by sending an email to their lawyers with a photo of one of his cranes hoisting NASA’s Space Shuttle Enterprise onto the plane for transport from Washington, D.C., to New York.
“He’s telling us, ‘I got away with murder, I’m getting government contracts and I can’t be touched,’” said Panzella, who noted Lomma’s company operates some 300 cranes.
Neither Lomma nor his company has responded to requests from the Militant for comment.
Both families have filed civil suits against Lomma. The court will question him May 3 in preparation for the civil trial that Karten hopes will take place around May 15.
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