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New York crane collapse trial begins

It was May of 2008 and construction work was loud and furious on Manhattan's Upper East Side. In a few unforgettable moments, the noise increased to a deafening roar as a crane collapsed and a pair of lives ended and others were forever changed.

"We heard a godawful noise," a construction worker who was guiding the crane from the ground testified earlier this week. "I'd never heard anything that loud in my life."

Whether or not there was a crime involved in that tragic crane accident is to be settled in a quiet courtroom. The question of civil liability in the case will be settled in a courtroom in the future, but many of the issues in the criminal trial will be relevant in civil litigation as well.

Right now, prosecutors are pointing at the crane owner, who they say got critical repairs to the 200-foot construction giant done on the cheap. When a substandard weld failed, they say, he was to blame.

One worker who died, the 30-year-old crane operator, was just two weeks shy of his wedding date. The other was a 27-year-old sewer company worker pulled from under the metal and concrete rubble, but died just hours later.

The men died, the prosecutor said, "because of one man's greed." That man -- the owner of the crane -- denies the charge, insisting that he had his crane inspected and repaired. The failed weld was a result of the crane collapse, not its cause.

Prosecutors say the owner and his mechanic got estimates for a crane turntable repair from reputable makers of critical component, but instead went with a cheap overseas firm they found on the internet. They then failed to ensure that the weld was reliable, even after the company wrote in an e-mail that "we don't have confidence on this welding."

The mechanic has pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide and is expected to testify on behalf of the prosecution.

The defense insists the crane's operator may have contributed or caused his own death by disengaging or overriding safety features on the crane.

It will be interesting to see which arguments are accepted in criminal court and later in civil court.

Source: CBS News: "Crane owner goes on trial in deadly NYC collapse," Feb. 22, 2012

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