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three workers were employed by Breeze National, a Brooklyn-based company with mob ties and a checkered safety record.

Emergency workers tend to injured construction worker.



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Mariela Lombard/for New York Daily News



The scene of the building collapse on W. 131st St. in Harlem.


Michael Schwartz for New York Da


Rubble trapped three workers after the collapse.


Michael Schwartz for New York Da



Another view of the scene.


Three hardhats who worked for a demolition company with ties to the mob were trapped in the rubble of a Harlem building when tons of reinforced concrete crashed down on them Thursday, killing one worker and seriously injuring two others.

Juan Ruiz, a 69-year-old grandfather who was about to retire, died shortly after he and another construction worker were pulled out of the twisted debris.

As anxious co-workers looked on, firefighters were tearing through the wreckage in a valiant effort to reach the third trapped worker, 60-year-old King Range.

“Help me!” Range cried out as firefighters guided by his pleas found him inside a crevice of crumbled concrete, his left arm pinned by a half-ton slab.

“There was a void in there,” FDNY Captain Robert Morris of Rescue 1 in midtown said later. “He was basically saying, ‘Help me.’ ”

Forty-five minutes later, firefighters carried Range out of the ruins.

“He was really banged up, but he talked all the way to the ambulance,” said a firefighter who helped get him to St. Luke’s Hospital.

There, Range’s son, thanked God and the firefighters for delivering his dad from what could have been a concrete crypt.

“I’m just extremely thankful to God he’s alive,” said
King Range Jr., 25, of the Bronx, who uses a wheelchair to get around and suffers from cerebral palsy. “Honestly, I don’t know what I would have done without him.”

King and 30-year-old Sakim Kirby, were expected to recover.

The three workers were employed by Breeze National, a Brooklyn-based company with mob ties and a checkered safety record. The company was hired by Columbia University to demolish the century-old warehouse to make way for their expansion into Harlem.

Breeze National began demolishing the former two-story paint warehouse at 604-606 W. 131st St. last month, records show.

The company is owned by Toby Romano, a Luchese crime family associate who was convicted in 1988 of bribing inspectors to overlook health violations on asbestos-removal jobs.

A call to Romano’s company was not returned. But this was not the first time a Breeze National worker died on a Columbia demolition job.

Two years ago, 51-year-old Jozef Wilk fell to his death while demolishing a Columbia-owned building at 3229 Broadway.

Up in the Bronx, there were only tears as Ruiz’s widow, Francisca, wept uncontrollably on the bed she had shared with her husband of 46 years.

His 37-year-old daughter, Sandra, rocked back and forth on the edge of the bed with tears in her eyes saying, “Oh my God! Oh my God!”

Nearby was Ruiz’s prized possession — a photograph of himself shaking hands with Pope John Paul II.

“He was going to retire soon and go back home” to the Dominican Republic, said nephew Michael Pimentel, 36. “He had boxes upstairs and everything . . . Life is just so hard sometimes.”


Two-thirds of the building had already been razed when a worker sliced through a support beam at 7:50 a.m. Thursday, officials said. The floor above him suddenly came crashing down.

“Once they cut that structural beam, the site became unstable and there was a collapse,” said Department of Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri.

Within minutes, the job site was crowded with firefighters and the rescue of Range was underway.

Using special struts, firefighters quickly buttressed the hole where Range lay trapped to keep it from collapsing.

Then they began the delicate task of removing the slab from Range’s arm. The rescuers had to work fast because with every passing minute Range’s chances of losing his arm — and his life — grew greater.

“It closes off circulation,” Morris said. “That part of the body starts to die.

Once that was accomplished, firefighters cut through the metal pipes and beams to free Range’s legs and carry him to safety.

“My father, he’s my rock,” said Range’s son. “As a child I would never imagine that I would talk to anyone about my father being injured. He’s like my Superman. This is very tough right now.”

He said his dad — an observant Muslim who makes stained glass windows — is in great pain with a ruptured shoulder blade in addition to head injuries.

Kirby’s dad, Curtis, said he was supposed to go fishing with his son this weekend. He said his son suffered a concussion and multiple spine and pelvic injuries.

“I’m still numb,” Curtis Kirby said. “He worked so many years for them and never had an accident.”

In November, the Buildings Department issued a stop-work order because the scaffolding was a floor higher than approved. The order was rescinded a week later.

Then, on March 5, the DOB issued a partial stop-work order because hardhats on the site were using improper safety harnesses. Work resumed two days later, records show.

Breeze National has also been hit with violations for failing to notify the DOB that it was starting demolition and for failing to properly safeguard all the people and property affected by the demolition, records show.

Romano has managed to worm his way into some of New York’s biggest construction jobs despite being exposed as a mobster in 1992 during a federal racketeering trial of a Luchese capo.

Romano’s company was revealed by the Daily News in 2005 as one of the subcontractors hired to clean up Ground Zero — a job for which it was paid $3.9 million.

Breeze National also did the bulk of the $17 million demolition of Shea Stadium.

While Romano’s company does not have any city contracts, one of his affiliated companies — Breeze Carting — is due to be removed from the city’s “caution” list this May.

Placement on that list doesn’t bar a company from doing business with the city, but it is supposed to bring additional scrutiny.

Breeze Carting wound up on that list after the city’s Business Integrity Commission turned down Romano’s application in 2007 to get into the construction waste removal business, an industry notorious for its links to organized crime.

The commission denied the application because of Romano’s mob ties and because the company knowingly provided false information on its application and refused to accept a monitor.
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