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By Dave Warner
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Two construction companies were fined the maximum total of $397,000 for failing to follow "basic safety precautions" that could have prevented a building collapse that killed six people in a thrift store, a federal officials said on Thursday.
On June 5, a four-story building being demolished along busy Market Street in the center of Philadelphia collapsed, falling on a neighboring Salvation Army store.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Thursday announced it would issue the stiffest fine possible to two companies that were tearing down the building, Campbell Construction and S&R Contracting. Campbell, the lead contractor, was fined $313,000 and S&R Contracting $84,000.
"This case is an egregious case," David Michaels, OSHA's assistant secretary of labor, told reporters during a telephone press conference.
"We should not be here today if two employers that OSHA has cited today had followed very obvious and basic safety precautions," he said.
The Philadelphia District Attorney's office is conducting a grand jury probe into the tragedy, and the city of Philadelphia is investigating the city department that oversees demolitions, the department of Licenses & Inspection.
Neither company nor their lawyers could be reached for comment.
The head of S&R, Sean Benschop, who is also known as Kary Roberts, is in jail, awaiting a preliminary hearing next month on charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment. He was operating heavy equipment at the site at the time of the building collapse.
"Campbell Construction and S&R Contracting sacrificed worker and public safety through the deliberate neglect of demolition safety fundamentals," Michaels said.
In addition to city and federal government probes, lawyers for more than a dozen people injured and the families of the dead have filed 15 lawsuits in the case.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Bernard Orr)