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Alert building inspectors avert disaster in Queens

FRESH MEADOWS, Queens — Half a dozen construction workers were within seconds of disaster when the sharp eyes of two building inspectors noticed the top of the Queens building was about to collapse.

Building inspectors Joseph Martucci and Johnny Mendez were examining gas lines in a house across the street when their eyes shifted to the house being renovated. They quickly spotted movement that could trap a worker.

"Suddenly the building began to shift with one worker narrowly escaping," Martucci said.

He and Mendez dashed to the site and shouted for the other workers to get out of the way.

"When I saw that coming down, my goal was to see everybody was safe," Mendez said.

Work on the 2-story house on 181st street in Fresh Meadows began at the beginning of the month and workers were demolishing a portion of the house so they could add an extension.

Investigators from the Department of Investigation were on the scene to determine if any wrongdoing was involved.

The Buildings Department immediately halted construction after it determined there were problems.

Juan arias, chief of emergency response at the Buildings Department, said his preliminary investigation found that the construction company had failed to follow proper procedure in the demolition of the building.

Assemblyman David Weprin, whose district office is in the neighborhood, said such occurrences are not unusual.

"We get many complaints about construction and over development that lead to accidents like this," he said.

Inspector Martucci said he was grateful that he was able to alert the construction workers to run for safety in time. He said it was his belief in god that told him something was wrong and that enabled him to help people.

None of the construction workers who escaped harm would comment and there was no answer at the office of the construction company.

Even before a full investigation is completed, the Buildings Department has filed four violations, including failure to safeguard the site. Each violation carries a potential fine of $25,000