Source: NYC charges expected in ground zero fire

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NEW YORK (AP) -- Three construction supervisors and a subcontractor have been indicted in the 2007 deaths of two firefighters at a ground zero skyscraper, a person familiar with the investigation said Monday.

The person familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press that manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide are among the charges. The individual spoke on condition of anonymity because the indictment had not been announced.

The charges cap a 16-month investigation that exposed numerous failures by city officials, though the person told the AP the indictment does not charge New York City or any government officials in the blaze.

The individual said the defendants include two senior officials at subcontractor John Galt Corp. and a manager with general contractor Bovis Lend Lease. The Galt company is also being charged.

Lawyers for Galt and two officials named in the indictment didn't immediately return messages seeking comment Monday.

Firefighters Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino were found dead of smoke inhalation in the former Deutsche Bank tower, a building heavily damaged in the Sept. 11 attacks. The tragedy exposed a series of failures at the project, including no standpipe to supply water to the upper floors.

Firefighters' family members, who had pressed to hold city and state officials liable for the blaze along with contractors, had been told in recent weeks that an indictment would likely not name the government.

Joseph Graffagnino Sr., whose son was killed in the blaze, said Monday the results of the investigation "wasted a lot of taxpayers' time and a lot of taxpayers' dollars."

"The city seems to go after the little guys. They could have done this from the second day after the fire," he said. "Why wait (16) months just to go indict the John Galt Company?"

The city had acknowledged failing to inspect the building for fire hazards, and had been negotiating with prosecutors to avoid criminal charges.

Among the hazards: The pipe supplying water to fire hoses was broken and the sprinklers didn't work, stairwells were blocked with plywood paneling meant to keep toxic debris in, no working elevator existed inside the building, and an air pressure system created more smoke.

John Galt Corp. was a subcontractor hired by Bovis and the building's owner, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., to remove toxic debris from the building and take it down floor by floor. The 41-story tower had been dismantled to 26 stories before the fire. It still stands that tall just across from the World Trade Center site.

A construction worker's carelessly tossed cigarette caused the fire, but investigators had spent much of the time investigating who was responsible for the maze of fire hazards in the building that hampered firefighters' efforts in the tower. They included the cut standpipe, blocked stairwells, thick plastic sheeting to cover toxic debris that trapped smoke in the building and a negative air pressure system that pushed flames down toward the firefighters.

The Fire Department - which had a firehouse next door - acknowledged it hadn't regularly inspected the building, as city law requires, for more than a year. Other city and state regulators had also been in the tower on a near-daily basis, but didn't report the hazards.

The city and the state-controlled development agency have spent millions on criminal defense attorneys during the prosecutor's investigation, which brought Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta, former Buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster and other officials before a grand jury.

The building's demolition was put on hold for about a year because of the blaze. Previous demolition attempts were stalled by the discovery of hundreds of Sept. 11 victims' body parts left in the building, and other accidents.