NEW YORK – The criminal trial surrounding one of the nation's deadliest construction-crane collapses has honed in on claims that a worn polyester strap was used and broke at a key point in securing the towering crane. But the crane rigger had been provided with brand-new straps, a witness testified Wednesday.
The concrete company in charge of the crane work obtained six of the straps for rigger William Rapetti, but three of them were found in a toolshed the day after the crane toppled onto a midtown Manhattan block and killed seven people in March 2008, said Matt Katkocin, an official with the company, Elizabeth, N.J.-based Joy Contractors Inc.
Rapetti, 49, has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and other charges.
The heavy-duty straps, which were used temporarily to lash a nearly six-ton piece of steel onto the crane, are at the heart of the case.
Prosecutors say the 200-foot-tall rig fell because the straps failed, sending the steel piece tumbling down and destabilizing the crane. And they say Rapetti is to blame because he used four straps — including the worn one — when the crane's manufacturer called for eight, and he didn't take steps to stop the straps from fraying against the crane's hard edges.
Rapetti's lawyer, Arthur Aidala, says the straps didn't cause the disaster, and Rapetti followed industry norms in using them. The crane was vulnerable because of engineering and design decisions Rapetti wasn't involved in, Aidala says.
Katkocin testified that he ordered six of the $50 straps, known as slings, at Rapetti's request in January 2008. Initially, only three were available, but the rest arrived within two weeks, he said.
Katkocin then told Rapetti in passing that the full order was in, he said.
"I said, 'The other slings came.' He said, 'No problem — hang onto them,'" Katkocin testified.
Three of the slings were discovered in the toolshed the day after the collapse, he said, adding to the uncertainty about why the worn strap was used. Another witness, tool manager Rosario Galluzzo, testified previously that he set out four brand-new straps for Rapetti and his crew to use on the day of the collapse.
Aidala noted that Rapetti, as the master rigger, didn't set the straps himself and wasn't expected to.
"His job is to make sure his team has safe equipment to use," and he did so by having the new straps ordered, Aidala said.
Katkocin also testified that there was a history of problems with the computer that controlled the crane's long arm, or boom — problems Rapetti's defense has suggested may have destabilized it. Katkocin said he was told the problem was fixed before the collapse.