Crane King Indicted in 2008 Collapse That Killed Two

In addition to toothpaste and lead-painted toys, today brings a new add to the watch list of potentially dangerous products from China: crane parts.

As predicted last week by Times reporter John Elgion, Manhattan D.A. Cy Vance today hit the king of New York's tower crane providers, one James Lomma, with criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment charges stemming from the deadly May 30, 2008 crane collapse at E. 91st that killed two people and seriously injured a third. Lomma's two companies, New York Crane and J.F. Lomma, Inc., were also hit with charges. A former Lomma mechanic, Tibor Varganyi, was indicted as well.

But another culprit cited in Vance's announcement today was a Chinese manufacturer, RTR Bearing, which was hired by Lomma to fashion a replacement part for a tower crane that suffered a cracked turntable on an earlier job.

Two "reputable" manufacturers gave Lomma estimates of $34,000 to $120,000 to fabricate the piece, and said the part would take from seven months to two years to deliver. But according to court documents, Lomma and Varganyi went hunting on the Web and came up with RTR which said it could turn the job around for a mere $20,000 in just three months. Vance said Lomma was under the gun to get the part since the inoperable crane was costing him $50,000 a month in lost rental fees. Lomma pondered the situation and decided to order Chinese.

But it wasn't all RTR's fault. The Chinese firm warned that it wasn't sure it could handle the job, telling Lomma's company in an e-mail that they were "afraid" that their welding was "not good" and that they lacked "confidence" that they could perform the job. This allegedly didn't faze Lomma who ordered the firm to do the weld anyway.

Vance faulted Lomma for a laundry list of other failures including not hiring an engineer to oversee the repairs, and providing RTR with "grossly inadequate" welding specs. In addition, he allegedly failed to check in with the city's building's department before ordering the new part.

When the repair was completed, Lomma quickly installed it and re-rented a Kodiak tower crane on a hi-rise construction project on the upper East Side in April, 2008. On an otherwise beautiful spring day, the crane snapped, killing two workers, maiming a third, pulverizing nearby buildings, and sending New York into yet another terror-from-the-sky alert.

A lawyer for Lomma's company, Paul Schechtman, told the Associated Press that what happened was "an accident - a tragedy and not a crime."


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