Emergency personnel respond to a building collapse in downtown Philadelphia, where the city fire commissioner says as many as eight to 10 people are believed trapped in the rubble, Wednesday, June 5, 2013. (Dino Hazell/AP Photo)

Building Inspector Tied to Philadelphia Collapse Commits Suicide

Deputy mayor: 'This man did nothing wrong.'

Emergency personnel respond to a building collapse in downtown Philadelphia, where the city fire commissioner says as many as eight to 10 people are believed trapped in the rubble, Wednesday, June 5, 2013. (Dino Hazell/AP Photo)
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Philadelphia building inspector Ronald Wagenhoffer, an employee of the city's License and Inspections Department for 16 years, died of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound, city officials said Thursday.

Wagenhoffer, 52, was publicly identified in city documents as one of the inspectors who approved the demolition of a four-story building in downtown Philadelphia that collapsed June 5 onto a Salvation Army store, killing six people. He was not suspected of any wrongdoing related to the building collapse, according to city officials.

Records released by the city show the demolition permit was granted on Feb. 1, 2013. Wagenhoffer inspected the site and notified adjoining properties of the demolition on Feb. 12. Two weeks later, on Feb. 25, he inspected the site again, writing in a note, "no work started before permitted date."

The city received a complaint May 8 that no contractor name was visible on the building's demolition permit, the city-released log said, but less than a week later Wagenhoffer determined the complaint was "unfounded," and waived an optional "framing/close in" inspection of the site.

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The complaint was made by Stephen Field, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, in a May 6 email to the city government. "The workers are not wearing any safety equipment (not even hardhats while working to demolish brick facades with crowbars). The sidewalk is not adequately protected, and there appears to be no adequate plan to prevent the collapse of walls or facing materials onto pedestrians and those exiting the subway," Field wrote.

"I do hope that you manage to convey this information to L&I prior to a building collapse that leads to an injury of someone working on this building or to someone waiting for a bus or exiting the subway at that corner," Field warned city officials in a follow-up May 7 email that he provided to the Inquirer.

Wagenhoffer's body was found in his pick-up truck along the city's Roxborough neighborhood Wednesday night.

Jennifer Doxzon, who lives near the site of Wagenhoffer's death, told WHYY-TV he argued with a woman before apparently shooting himself in the chest. "It happened so fast," Doxzon said. "It was just a bunch of screaming, and then that noise, and then I ran into the house because I wasn't sure what was going on."

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Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison and other officials confirmed Wagenhoffer's death at a Thursday press conference. "We are a city in deep and profound mourning," he said. "With the building collapse a week ago we have now lost seven lives in connection with this tragedy."

"This man did nothing wrong," Gillison said. "The department did what it had to do with the code that existed at the time."

Crane operator Sean Benschop, 43, was arrested June 8 and charged with 13 criminal counts including "risking a catastrophe." Benschop's blood tested positive for marijuana and painkiller use after the accident, police said.

"This is a criminal investigation, which means that there is personal responsibility, at least alleged, and it was not on Mr. Wagenhoffer," Gillison said at the Thursday press conference.

Two days after the building collapse the city government issued new demolition permit guidelines. Inspectors were ordered to visit all sites with an open demolition permit, the June 7 city announcement says, new permit-holders will have their sites visited by inspectors every 15 days after a permit is issued, and new complaints will now be investigated within 48 hours.

Watch: City officials discuss Wagenhoffer's apparent suicide:

 

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