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The Builders

The sixteen people who’ve died this year in the building of a new New York.

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New York’s construction boom—there are more than 200 high-rises under way—has come at tragic cost: sixteen construction fatalities this year. More hard hats have been killed so far in 2008 than in all of 2007. Mayor Bloomberg wants more inspections, greater training, and steeper fines for code violators. But as he said in a press conference, “Closing down construction is not an option.”



Yuriy Vanchytsky
January 14, Trump Soho
Vanchytsky, 53, was smoothing fresh concrete over wooden molds atop the Trump Soho tower when the structure gave out and he plunged 42 floors. The 53-year-old Ukrainian came to New York eight years ago and lived in Greenpoint with his wife, Natalia, and two of their three children.

Gregory Sirc
January 24, Museum of Modern Art
Sirc died when he fell off a ladder at the Museum of Modern Art. A 58-year-old New York native, he hated flowers and had asked that upon his death, donations be given to the Autism Society of America. Mourners raised $4,500.

Jose Palacios
January 30, 525 Clinton Ave., Bklyn.
Palacios was standing on a scaffold atop a thirteen-story Clinton Hill condo. A gust of wind knocked down the scaffold; Palacios, 42, fell twelve stories to his death. A trained accountant in Mexico, he’d sneaked into the U.S. three years ago and sent most of his earnings home to his wife and teenage daughter.

Sunil Ankiah
February 21, 459 W. 18th St.
A 31-year-old Indian immigrant, Ankiah was crushed by a luxury condo’s construction elevator.

Louro Ortega
March 12, 791 Glenmore Ave., Bklyn.
Ortega was working on an East New York house when a foundation wall collapsed, structurally undermined by excavation on the adjacent lot. William Lattarulo, who owns both properties, blamed recent heavy rains. (He was later fined.) Ortega, 30, was buried in rubble.

Wayne Bleidner
March 15, 303 E. 51st St.
Bleidner’s widow, Denise, calls him “just a real hometown boy,” someone who was friends with everyone. Bleidner, 51, was in the cab of the nineteen-story crane on East 51st Street that killed him and six others when it fell. He always wanted a Corvette; Denise muses about buying one to keep in the garage as a tribute.

Brad Cohen
March 15, 303 E. 51st St.
Cohen, 54, was a “huge sports nut,” someone who’d scream at the TV during games, says his 21-year-old daughter Lauren. He grew up on Long Island, and he lived there with his wife, Katie, and their three kids. “He adored my mother,” Lauren says. November would have been their 30th anniversary.

Anthony Mazza
March 15, 303 E. 51st St.
Mazza, 39, spent his free time riding his Harley-Davidson. He grew up on Staten Island, where he met his wife, Thalia, and he followed his father into working on construction cranes. He restored a 1955 Chevy Bel Air and doted on his 3-year-old son, Carmine.

Aaron Stephens
March 15, 303 E. 51st St.
Stephens’s co-workers called him “Superman” because he could lift heavy objects. The 45-year-old Brooklynite was devoted to his daughters, ages 12 and 14; he sold their Girl Scout cookies and never missed their sporting events.


Santino Gallone
March 15, 303 E. 51st St.
“Santy,” 37, was a baseball star in high school on Long Island and in college at Fordham; he later spent two years in the Phillies’ farm system. Gallone was site supervisor on the East 51st Street project, and co-workers said they saw him trying to save a colleague before they both were killed.

Clifford Canzona
March 15, 303 E. 51st St.
“He was just an easygoing guy, always smiling,” says Canzona’s mother, Nile. Canzona, 45, had construction work in his blood—his father and his two brothers worked on buildings. Recently divorced, he liked to go to the gym and ride his Jet Ski. The East 51st Street job wasn’t Canzona’s usual site—he had been called in to help extend the crane.

Odin Torres
March 15, 303 E. 51st St.
Torres, 28, was visiting from Florida when her friend’s East 50th Street apartment was crushed by the crane. She was buried as the building collapsed on top of her. It took rescue workers more than 48 hours to recover her body.


Kevin Kelly
April 14, 400 E. 67th St.
Kelly was installing windows on the 23rd floor of a condo when his nylon safety strap failed. He fell nine stories to his death, landing on a fourteenth-floor balcony. Kelly, 25, liked hunting, writing poetry, and building buildings. “He was a hard worker all his life,” says his father, Richard, a retired construction worker. “He was just a good kid.”

Shane McEvoy
May 28, Avery Fisher Hall
McEvoy, a 25-year-old Irishman, fell from a roof while working on the Lincoln Center renovation.

Donald Leo
May 30, 335 E. 91st St.
Leo’s wedding was planned for June 21. But he was killed when a 200-foot construction crane on East 91st Street snapped. Leo, 30, was stationed in the cab, which fell to the ground. He’d played football at New Dorp High School on Staten Island. “He was a solid athlete and good competitor,” says Elizabeth Sciabarra, New Dorp’s former principal. “He loved his family, and they were always proud of him.”


Ramadan Kurtaj
May 30, 335 E. 91st St.
Kurtaj, 27, immigrated to the Bronx two years ago and was saving up to bring his parents from Kosovo. “He really loved the United States,” says Xhevahire Sinanaj, his cousin. He had seven brothers and two sisters back in Kosovo. He was hit by debris when the crane broke; he later died of cardiac arrest.

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