Collapsed Jamaica crane did not have permits: City

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A 170-ton crane operating without a city permit on the renovation of the State Supreme Courthouse in Jamaica fell on the rear of the court building Monday afternoon, injuring two people, fire officials said.

The crane, which was lifting equipment and materials up to the roof of the nine-story building at 88-11 Sutphin Blvd. in Jamaica, fell at about 3:10 p.m. Monday after the foundation it was standing on gave way, said Battalion Chief Bill Van Wart of the Fire Department.

The crane operator, Joseph Volpe, hit his head in the cab of the crane, and was taken to nearby Mary Immaculate Hospital. He was in critical but stable condition from multiple injuries, including head trauma, said hospital spokeswoman Natasha Burke.

A woman working in the public administra­tor’s office on the sixth floor of the court building was also treated for cuts she received when a window was broken by the crane and was released from Mary Immaculate Monday, Burke said.

The crane contractor, G.V. Mechanical Corp., based in Long Island City, did not have a permit to operate a crane in the area, a city Department of Buildings spokeswoman said. Although the contractor is state certified, a city permit is still required for construction work, said a spokeswoman from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, which is in charge of the project.

The contractor was also working with an expired construction permit and the city DOB issued a violation and a stop-work order Monday, the spokeswoman said.

The crane contractor could not be reached for comment.

The courthouse was closed Monday and Tuesday, and the courthouse was expected to reopen Wednesday afternoon, after the crane was removed Tuesday night.

A six-floor apartment building across the street, at 88-25 148th St., was also evacuated when the crane fell Monday afternoon. Although residents were allowed to return to their homes just before 5 p.m., they had to be evacuated again at about 9 p.m. Monday as the Department of Buildings and other emergency personnel prepared to remove the crane, said Frank McCarton, deputy commissioner with the Office of Emergency Management.

Residents were allowed back to their homes Tuesday night after the crane was finally removed from the courthouse.

The 150-foot crane fell onto the building after the foundation underneath the machine appeared to give way, said Assistant Fire Chief Joseph Callan.

“Under the foundation where the crane footings were set was an underground catch basin,” he said. “Unfortunat­ely, when they placed the crane there, they were unaware of that, and when the weight of this crane was put on it, it caused the collapse of the flooring above that catch basin.”

The facade of the building was damaged, including a few broken windows and a broken concrete railing at about the sixth floor. The crane was being used in the renovation of the building, which has been going on for about a year.

Officials used a larger 600-ton crane from Maspeth to lift the crane away from the building, but three attempts Monday night and Tuesday morning failed, McCarton said. Officials were repositioning the larger crane to get a better grip on the fallen machine before making a fourth attempt Tuesday afternoon, he said. Attempts to remove the crane finally succeeded Tuesday night.

A displacement center was established by the city and the American Red Cross at nearby PS 82, he said. Residents were allowed back into the building briefly Tuesday morning to grab essentials, McCarton said.

There were also reports that debris was being thrown at emergency personnel on the scene about 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, but McCarton could not confirm the reports.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

Updated 7:08 pm, October 10, 2011
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