Three extreme-skydiving enthusiasts accused of parachuting off the 1 World Trade Center tower last year were arrested Monday, authorities said, in a second criminal case in two weeks arising from surreptitious stunts at the nation's tallest skyscraper.
The three daredevils and someone accused of being an accomplice were facing charges including felony burglary in a Sept. 30 leap from the building, where a teenage boy was arrested on March 16. Authorities said the teen had slipped through a gap in a fence, eluded an inattentive security guard and spent about two hours atop the 541-metre-tall tower.
The incidents have raised questions about security at the lower Manhattan site, which is supposed to be one of the most tightly protected in the U.S. The site is owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
WARNING: Video contains graphic language
The New York Police Department said last fall that investigators were looking for two parachutists in dark jumpsuits seen floating near the building around 3 a.m. on Sept. 30, landing by a nearby skyscraper and walking away.
It was "very exhilarating," one of the accused jumpers, Andrew Rossig, said Monday as he and co-defendant James Brady headed to a police precinct to surrender.
"It's a fair amount of free-fall time," he said. "You really get to enjoy the view of the city and see it from a different perspective."
'These men violated the law and placed themselves, as well as others, in danger.' - Police Commissioner William Bratton
Rossig, an avid BASE jumper — the acronym stands for "building, antenna, span, earth" — said the skydivers took care to keep from endangering anyone, choosing a time when streets would be largely deserted. Brady, an ironworker who formerly worked at the trade centre, declined to comment.
It wasn't immediately clear how investigators zeroed in on Rossig, Brady, skydiving instructor Marko Markovich and Kyle Hartwell, accused of being their cohort on the ground. Police searched their homes last month and got video of the jump, which hadn't been posted online or otherwise publicized, Rossig attorney Timothy Parlatore said. But he said authorities didn't signal arrests were imminent until 16-year-old Justin Casquejo's arrest last week.
Hartwell's lawyer, Joseph Murray, said Hartwell also surrendered and declined to comment further. Markovich's attorney, Joseph Corozzo, said his client was a "very responsible individual" and highly trained parachuting instructor.
"He has an impeccable background, and I just hope that he's not turned into some form of a scapegoat for the Port Authority's shortcomings" in security, Corozzo said.
All four defendants were awaiting arraignment.
- Rossig, 33, is from Slate Hill, N.Y.
- Brady, 32, is from Kings Park, N.Y.
- Markovich, 27, is from Lake Ronkonkoma, N.Y.
- Hartwell is from East Patchogue, N.Y.
Police Commissioner William Bratton said the investigation was a joint endeavour by the NYPD and the Port Authority police. He said the four men also face charges of misdemeanour reckless endangerment and misdemeanour jumping from a structure.
"These men violated the law and placed themselves, as well as others, in danger," Bratton said. "These arrests should send a message to anyone thinking about misusing a landmark this way. They will be tracked down and they will face serious charges. Being a thrill-seeker does not give immunity from the law."
Security concerns raised
The skyscraper, still under construction, crowns the rebuilt World Trade Center, a project steeped in security concerns. Mayor Bill de Blasio has called what Casquejo is accused of doing "shocking and troubling."
The NYPD devotes more than 200 officers, surveillance cameras and other technology to protect the perimeter of the site, while Port Authority police and private security agents guard the inside. Ultimately, plans call for a $40 million system of barriers and checkpoints around the 6.4-hectare trade centre site.
But Rossig said the jumpers got in simply by walking through a gap in a fence, echoing an account the Port Authority says Casquejo gave police about what he did.
An official not authorized to discuss the investigation and speaking on the condition of anonymity disputed that account, saying that Brady used his work access to secrete his parachuting pals into the site. Brady's attorney, Andrew Mancilla, denied that and cited Rossig's version of what happened.
While Casquejo, of Weehawken, New Jersey, fights a misdemeanour trespassing charge, the parachute jump defendants were arrested on more serious felony burglary charges. The offence entails being in a building illegally with an intent to commit another crime — in this case, breaking a 2008 city law against parachuting off buildings more than 15 meters tall, defence lawyers said.
The misdemeanour law was passed after former television stuntman Jeb Corliss tried to parachute off the Empire State Building in 2006 and three climbers separately scaled The New York Times' 52-story headquarters in 2008.
A judge dismissed a felony reckless-endangerment case against Corliss, noting his BASE jumping experiences and efforts to minimize the risk of his leap.
Two Times climbers pleaded guilty to misdemeanour reckless endangerment. The third admitted disorderly conduct, a violation, after a grand jury heard about his climbing experience and safeguards and refused to indict him on more serious charges. All were sentenced to community service.