Sometimes tragedies have a terrible domino effect, with the first event triggering others. So it was in the case of the Philadelphia building that collapsed on June 5 while it was being demolished, falling onto a neighboring business and killing six people. Police alleged that a heavy equipment operator high on marijuana was to blame, but Ronald Wagenhoffer, a building inspector, felt he was at fault. He killed himself, leaving behind a wife, a 7-year-old son, and a video apology for his failure to perform his job right.
Wagenhoffer was the city inspector who looked at the building that was to be demolished, and issued a demolition permit for the site. On May 6, Stephen Field, called Philadelphia’s municipal hotline to complain that the demolition site was unsafe. He said crews weren’t using safety equipment and they had not provided any protection for pedestrians walking by. Wagenhoffer returned to the site on May 14, but found no violations.
After the collapse, Wagenhoffer returned to work immediately, but was wracked by guilt. Then, on Wednesday, he left work in the early afternoon and, later that day, drove his truck a mile away from his home and shot himself once in the chest.
Wagenhoffer left behind a brief video recording in which he explained that he felt that he had not done his job properly, making him responsible for the accident:
It was my fault. I should have looked at those guys working, and I didn’t. When I saw it was too late. I should have parked my truck and went over there but I didn’t. I’m sorry.
Despite Wagenhoffer’s on personal sense of failure, the city has not been blaming him for the job he did. Instead, the Department of Licenses & Inspections Commissioner, Carlton Williams, said he was an excellent employee:
He was a dedicated civil servant who did his job,’ he said. ‘He started in the Department of Public Property and moved his way up through the ranks as one of our top code officials in the Department of Licenses & Inspections.
A grand jury has been convened to investigate the building’s collapse.