The man responsible for city inspections at the site of the fatal building collapse in Philadelphia killed himself Wednesday night in his pick-up truck on a Roxborough street, police say.
Ronald Wagenhoffer, 52, was found by a passer-by about 9:10 p.m. on Shawmont Avenue, dead of a gunshot wound to the chest, police said.
Wagenhoffer, a 16-year veteran with the Philadelphia License and Inspections Department, was the lead inspector of the building that collapsed on Market Street last week, killing six people and injuring 13. The building being demolished collapsed onto an adjacent Salvation Army thrift store. Those who died were employees or shoppers at the store.
Based on photos and video, demolition experts have repeatedly identified obvious, and apparently unsafe, conditions at the site.
"This man did nothing wrong," said Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison at a press conference Thursday morning. "The department did what it was supposed to do under the code that existed at the time."
[UPDATE: In a video obtained by NBC10, the station reports that Wagenhoffer says he was at fault for the building collapse. Wagenhoffer's family is disputing he admitted guilt in the video, with one relative calling him a wonderful, loving man whom lies are being spread about.]
Known as a mentor
A person who knew Ronald Wagenhoffer and his work said he was a truly "good person" and "one of the best construction inspectors in the department." The source, who requested anonymity, said that while some inspectors think more narrowly about their jobs, Wagenhoffer was more broad in his approach. The source said Wagenhoffer was personable in his work and was "very in-tune to people."
The source said Wagenhoffer "had a great reputation for being very thorough with documenting his work," and was held up as an example for that. The source said Wagenhoffer helped mentor younger inspectors who are now "really distraught over the loss."
Five ongoing investigations
Gillison said that there are five ongoing investigations into the Center City building collapse.
"This is a criminal investigation, which means that there is personal responsibility, at least alleged," he said. "And it was not on Mr. Wagenhoffer."
Department of Licenses and Inspections Commissioner Carlton Williams said the loss presents additional pain for members of his department.
"I want everyone to understand that there is a lot of hurt and pain associated with the tragedy on June 5," said Williams. "We take that pain home with us at night and we wake up to it each and every day."
Williams called Wagenhoffer a dedicated civil servant who mentored others and always strived to be better. Williams asked that "in all the scrutiny and all of the comments that you be very respectful of what he did during his 16 years with the city of Philadelphia."
'Best city in the world'
Williams said Wagenhoffer loved his job. In March, he wrote on his Facebook page, “Another day working in the best city in the world.”
A day after the collapse, Wagenhoffer told a Facebook friend, “I’m ok.”
Williams did not speak to Wagenhoffer following the collapse.
In 2011, Wagenhoffer was nominated for L&I's Wismer Award. It is given to an L&I worker "who demonstrates professional abilities; is recognizable as an example for all members of the construction code enforcement division; and whose contributions to the Department are meritorious and worthy of recognition," according to a city report.
On Shawmont Avenue
At the scene Wednesday night, residents told of their experiences.
The vehicle was only steps away from where city and state officials dedicated the recently-completed Shawmont Trail in March.
Tom DiGiacomo of Roxborough, an avid fisherman, had parked his van on the 100 block of Shawmont Avenue, opposite the victim's F-150, to walk down to the river while waiting on family members running an errand.
Parking under a former rail viaduct before 9 p.m., DiGiacomo said he exited his vehicle and noticed the victim's pick-up.
He remembered the engine running, but not being able to see inside because of the truck's tinted glass. He then headed onto the trail that leads into the woods.
"I was right here and I didn't hear a thing," he said, noting that gunfire is not uncommon in the adjacent woods from small-time hunters and can plinkers.
When he returned, DiGiacomo saw the police tape – and his van squarely inside of it.
'It happened so fast'
Neighbor Jennifer Doxzon was on her porch. She recalled hearing arguing between the victim and a female, and then hearing a sharp sound, but wasn't sure that it was a gunshot.
"It happened so fast," she said. "It was just a bunch of screaming, and then that noise, and then I ran into the house because I wasn't sure what was going on."