Crane operator Donald Leo plummeted 200 feet to his death and Ramadan Kurtaj was crushed after a crane with a purportedly shoddy repair job fell at an Upper East Side job site. James Lomma, owner of New York Crane and Equipment, in 2012 was found not guilty in criminal court — and was a no-show Friday in civil court.
Construction worker Ramadan Kurtaj, and crane operator Donald Leo, died in 2008 when a 30-ton crane’s cab separated from the tower mast and plummeted 200 feet to the ground. The victims’ families filed suit against crane owner James Lomma, and that trial began Friday.
Two hardhats died because Manhattan crane czar James Lomma okayed a quick fix for one of his rigs rather than stop a construction job, lawyers for the victims charged Friday at the opening of their civil trial.
“Cranes do not fall down, cranes are not supposed to fall from the sky,” said Bernadette Panzella, who is representing the family of doomed crane operator Donald Leo.
“This is a very, very simple case,” she said. “That crane was not supposed to fall from the sky and kill Donald Christopher Leo, three weeks before his wedding.”
Leo, who was 30, had his entire life ahead of him, Panzella said.
“James F. Lomma didn’t do what he was he was supposed to do,” the lawyer said. “It’s not that he didn’t do one thing, he didn’t do anything.”
Panzella noted the presence of Leo’s grieving family and the fact that the kin of the second victim, Ramadan Kurtaj, had flown in from Kosovo to be at the trial.
James Lomma, left, owner of New York Crane and Equipment, and mechanic Tibor Varganyi, right, were tried in criminal court in 2012 over the deaths of Donald Leo and Ramadan Kurtaj. Varganyi pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide, but Lomma was acquitted.
But the “king of cranes” didn’t deign to show up in Manhattan Supreme Court, Panzella said.
“He can’t be inconvenienced,” Leo’s mom, Maria, said later.
“He doesn’t think this is important enough,” added Shawn Leo, the victim’s brother.
Lomma’s lawyer, Glenn Fuerth, said “no comment” when asked where his client was. But two years ago he was acquitted by a Manhattan judge of manslaughter after a 10-week trial.
Lomma, who is 68 and lives on Staten Island, owns New York Crane and Equipment, the biggest crane outfit in town.
Leo was in the cab operating the crane at an E. 91st St. job site when the behemoth suddenly collapsed in May 2008 and sent him falling 200 feet.
Kurtaj, 27, was on the ground and was crushed to death when the crane landed on him.
Prosecutors had argued that Lomma’s desire to keep a dangerous crane operating drove him to approve shoddy repairs on a bearing assembly.
Rather than have an expert make the fix, Lomma left the job to mechanic Tibor Varganyi, who is not a licensed engineer, to farm out the repair to a firm in China, they said.
Panzella said she’ll call an expert who will testify that the bad weld began failing within a day.
Family members of crane collapse victim Ramadan Kurtaj – sister Fitore Kurtaj, brother Mujo Kurtaj, father Uka Kurtaj and cousin Xhevahire Sinanaj (l. to rt.) – stand outside Manhattan Supreme Court on Friday. They, along with the family of second victim Donald Leo, are suing millionaire crane owner James Lomma over the 2008 accident.
“It looked like bubble gum,” the lawyer said.
Lomma’s lawyers are expected to do what they did at the criminal trial — blame Leo for hoisting the crane too rapidly and beyond its limits.
Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Daniel Conviser let Lomma off even after Varganyi pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide.
Conviser didn’t even try to justify or explain why he cleared Lomma of six criminal counts that could have sent the multimillionaire to prison for up to 15 years.
Kurtaj’s cousin called the verdict “a tragedy.”
“He was hoping for a better life,” Xhevahire Sinanaj said of his cousin. “He thought it was the safest country, the United States, and to build his life and his future.”
In the wake of that deadly crane accident, the city vowed to beef up safety requirement.
They now have 13 inspectors keeping tabs on the rigs currently operating on job sites in the city. But that’s just three more than they had in 2008.
That particular office also has three directors and five plan examiners on the payroll, said Buildings Department spokeswoman Kelly Magee.
Author; Jennifer H. Cunningham , Corky Siemaszko NEW YORK DAILY NEWS