Monday, June 2, 2008

IBC Monday : In The News

Crane victim's last words to fiancee: 'I love you'

Donald Leo's last words to his fiancée were: "I love you."

The doomed crane operator reminded Janine Belcastro of their special bond on Friday as he headed out the door to the upper East Side construction site where he was killed.

"He told Janine he loved her before he went to work that day," her sister, Lynda Belcastro, said yesterday.

Leo, 30, was killed when a piece of the 200-foot Kodiak crane crashed onto E.91st St.

Since the tragic accident, Janine Belcastro has been so distraught she has refused to eat, a family friend said.

Construction worker Ramadan Kurtij, 27, also died after he was crushed by debris.

Leo's friends and relatives who were expecting to gather for Leo's June 21 wedding instead found themselves yesterday at his wake.

"We were looking forward to going to the wedding," Adriana Lusterino, 55, said. "It's tragic."

Janine Belcastro wore shades and wept as she left the Hanley Funeral Home in Staten Island. She was flanked by family and friends who hugged and kissed her.

"He was engaging, intelligent and modest," Belcastro's cousin George Guida said. "He was an all-around great guy. He would have been a great addition to the family."

Jay Plachinski, 29, a correction officer from Danbury, Conn., played high school football with Leo.

He learned of his friend's death on the TV news. "I was like, 'Not Don. He's too tough,'" Plachinski said. "Don's going to live forever."

About 200 people packed the wake, as crews continued to clear the remnants of the hulking crane from the street in front of 333 E. 91st St.

Prosecutors were investigating whether a damaged part was used to erect the crane, and could file criminal charges, officials said yesterday.

"Right now the real question is whether or not one of the pieces of equipment had been damaged and was reused," Gov. Paterso after a news conference with Mayor Bloomberg. "If that's the case ... it would really be a criminal violation."

Barbara Thompson, spokeswoman for Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, said an investigator from the rackets bureau went to the site soon after the crane plummeted from the sky.

The rackets bureau looks into all construction fatalities, and usually quickly deems them accidental deaths. This time, the probe is more complicated.

Inspectors from the city Buildings Department and the federal Occupational Safey and Health Administration were trying to determine whether the turntable on the crane was damaged at another construction site.

The crane part may have been repaired and improperly reused at the E.91st St. site, said Kate Lindquist, spokeswoman for the Buildings Department.

Frank Lomma, whose New York Crane company owned the derrick, did not return calls for comment.

The toppled crane tore through a luxury apartment building across the street at 354 E. 91st St., destroying several apartments and a line of balconies.

Valerie Ackerman, a 37-year-old caterer, was sleeping but felt the reverberation from her fifth-floor apartment. By yesterday, she was worrying about the cost of boarding her dog and staying at a hotel. "We don't know whether they're going to reimburse or what," she said. "It's very frustrating. ... Nobody's telling us anything."

Larry Bliss, 35, and his wife Gina, 34, moved into their 13th-floor apartment a week before the incident.

Their nanny was in the apartment with their two children, Lainie, 2, and Sadia, 5 months, when the crane collapsed. The nanny was hysterical when she phoned her employer.

"I thought that the building was destroyed," Gina Bliss said.

Two days later, her own outlook was more pragmatic.

"It's life," Gina Bliss said. "We were lucky that our children got out safe. Some people have not been so lucky."

The deadly plunge came 2-1/2 months after seven people were killed in a midtown crane collapse.

That incident punctuated a string of safety violations - including falling objects - and fatalities at construction sites around the city.

Bloomberg said the criminal investigation into the latest collapse was "not surprising."

Despite the latest disaster, Bloomberg gave a vote of confidence to acting Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri.

"This guy's a real go-getter, he's proactive," Bloomberg said. "We want development in our city. But make no mistake, safety comes first."
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