The Manhattan District Attorney's Office announced the indictment of William Rapetti, a tower crane rigger and owner of a company that does the same, on charges including Manslaughter, Criminally Negligent Homicide, Assault and Reckless Endangerment. Mr. Rapetti's criminal defense attorney has his work cut out. If Mr. Rapetti is convicted of the crimes that resulted in the death of seven individuals he faces up to one year in jail on the least significant crime of Reckless Endangerment and up to 15 years in state prison on the most serious crime of Manslaughter. Mr. Rappetti, along with his criminal defense attorney, was in NY County Supreme Court earlier today for his arraignment on these charges.
The Manhattan District Attorney's Office is not alleging that Mr. Rapetti intentionally killed these individuals as he is not charged with Murder. Instead, it appears that based on the charges the prosecutions theory was that Mr. Rapetti was both negligent and reckless. Although the prosecution must always prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt and has the sole burden to do so, a reckless and negligent offense does not require any showing that the defendant tried to or sought to hurt or kill the victims of the crimes. According to the press release, prosecutors believe Mr. Rapettti clearly was negligent. The press release indicates that:
"Rapetti violated numerous provisions of the New York City Building Code, federal regulations, industry standards and the manufacturer's specifications pertaining to the proper use of the polyester slings. In particular, one of the failed slings had substantial pre-existing damage, including cuts and severe discoloration, that would have been obvious to Rapetti had he properly inspected the sling as mandated by the Building Code, federal regulations, and industry standards. Because the pre-existing damage had substantially diminished the capacity of that sling, it should not have been used at all.
In addition, all four slings had been tied to the crane in a knot called a 'choke,' which has the weakest load-bearing capacity of the three standard knots used in this type of operation. The slings were also tied around sharp metal edges of the crane tower without any kind of protective padding, which was also a violation of the Building Code, federal regulations, industry standards and warning labels on the slings themselves. The use of the slings without protective padding caused severe cuts to the slings, greatly reducing their capacity and ultimately leading to their failure. Finally, the investigation revealed that Rapetti failed to follow the crane manufacturer's specifications that the collar should have been supported by eight slings, not four."
Without knowing all the facts beyond the press release, it is difficult to say whether or not these actions, or lack their of, were negligent and reckless. Although arguing industry standards are the minimum level of safety in these operations, does failure to follow those guidelines mean Mr. Rapetti was negligent or reckless? If a particular knot is the weakest, does that mean it is useless or faulty and therefore it is reckless to use it? Moreover, is there any evidence that the manufacturer of the hardware is at fault and not Mr. Rapetti? Again, it is difficult to answer these questions without knowing the facts.
Whatever the facts may be, this case, like any other case, needs a detailed examination to ascertain the answers to these and other questions. While the untrained eye may see this case as one that is overwhelming due to the unfortunate deaths and Mr. Rapetti's alleged failure to follow regulations, skilled criminal defense attorneys such as those at Crotty Saland PC know that time, diligence and the attention to detail can alter the perception and reality of a criminal case.