World and Nation

Inspector commits suicide after Philly building collapses, killing six

PHILADELPHIA - A city building inspector was found dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound late Wednesday, a week after a building collapsed at a site he had inspected in central Philadelphia, killing six people.

The inspector, Ronald Wagenhoffer, 52, was found dead in his pickup truck in the Roxborough section of the city. He had been an inspector with the city’s Licenses and Inspections Department for 16 years.

“It appears this was a self-inflicted gunshot wound,” Everett Gillison, the deputy mayor for public safety, said at a news conference.

Wagenhoffer conducted an initial inspection at the site of the collapsed building that led to the issuing of a demolition permit on Feb. 12, according to documents released by the city. But no city official inspected immediately before the demolition began, as required, because the contractor did not inform the city that it was about to start work, officials say. That step was also required.

Questions about whether the inspections department bears any responsibility for the collapse have arisen since officials confirmed that the required inspection did not take place.

Wagenhoffer did inspect an adjacent demolition site on May 14, in response to a public complaint, but he issued no citations, city officials say.

Gillison defended the record of both Wagenhoffer and the inspections department.

“This man did nothing wrong,” Gillison said. “He did his job, and he did it the way he was supposed to do it. The department did what it was supposed to do under the code at the time. We are proud of this department.”

After the collapse, Wagenhoffer continued to do his job and showed no signs of distress, Gillison said. “He came to work every day,” he said. “He was out doing inspections throughout.”

Two days after the collapse, Mayor Michael A. Nutter introduced sweeping changes to the city’s demolition rules in an effort to force private contractors to adopt the same standards as city agencies.

The collapse, in which a four-story wall crushed an adjacent thrift store with shoppers and workers inside, is being investigated by a number of city and federal agencies, and by a grand jury that may recommend criminal charges. Prosecutors charged the excavator operator at the site, Sean Benschop, with six counts of involuntary manslaughter after his blood was found to contain traces of marijuana and painkillers.