Safety and OSHA News

Business owner dodges prison after worker fatality

Prosecutors asked for prison time for the owner of a tree cutting company after he was found guilty of negligent homicide in connection with a worker fatality. But the judge disagreed and sentenced him to a suspended jail term.

Now, Maurice Buzzell, owner of Buzzell Tree Service in East Kingston, NH, has been ordered to receive arborist training, perform 100 hours of community service and make 10 presentations to students about workplace safety.

He’s to appear in front of the judge again in a year to show that he’s completed the terms of his suspended sentence.

Earlier this year, a jury found Buzzell guilty of the homicide charge and a reckless conduct charge in the death of 22-year-old Jon Paul LaVigueur.

Prosecutors recommended a 1- to 3-year prison term. The maximum he could have received was 7 years in jail.

But Judge Diane Nicolosi said, “Mr. Buzzell is not an uncaring man. I think he is grieving for this man (LaVigueur).”

In August 2007, LaVigueur was struck in the head and torso by parts of an 80-foot pine tree. He was part of a four-person team pulling down the tree. As it started to fall, LaVigueur ran in the same direction it fell.

Former employees testified they were taught by Buzzell not to move out of the way until a tree started to fall.

What do you think of the court’s sentence? Let us know in the Comments Box below.You can also take our Quick Poll on this topic on our home page.

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  1. I dont believe “grieving” for someone after the fact is enough to suspend a sentence. Maybe the homicide charge is a bit too stiff but I could see doing a year or six months on the reckless conduct charge. In the long run the guy got away with it and is not being held accountable. Typical.

    • Jill Buzzell says:

      No one got away with anything. A life was lost. That’s bad enough especially considering he was a close personal friend of 16 years. Work place accidents and deaths happen often, and the owner of the company is never personally responsible and they certainly don’t go to jail for it. They just pay lots of fines.

  2. Safety Steve says:

    It was the right decision.

  3. A lot of people go to prison for mistakes they’ve made that really shouldn’t be there. Had this case been presided over by a different judge the prosecutor might have gotten his way.

    I agree with the judges decision. The guy made a stupid mistake, he wasn’t doing it to be a criminal. He just needed more training. The family of the deceased might have a difference of opinion but their view is influenced by emotion and more reactionary. This guy is still being made accountable but in a productive way.

    There are lots of people in prison that are there because of prosecutors pushing to get more out of the case then what the defendant deserves. The justice system isn’t all that great due to the faults of the attorneys and judges. A couple years ago a judge was sent down because he was caught masterbating during the closing arguments of a 2nd degree murder trial.

    It’s because of things like that that people should be less quick to judge someone for being an excon.

  4. Criminal penalties should be reserved for flagrant violations or repeated disregard of safety rules. In this case it sounds like this was the result of a lack of training, such as: escape routes well planned and explained before-hand and others. The short descriptions given leave out many facts necessary to make a thorough response.

    Having worked with companies over the years that had a workplace fatality, each had common factors: (1) workers and supervisors said it was completely unexpected, (2) most could see now why it happened and most could describe a way it could have been avoided.

    Accident prevention training must help employees develop a thinking process that looks for all possible injuries that could occur.

  5. Criminal penalties and prosecutions should be reserved for “criminals”. A crime should be an instance of action (or omission) with intent to commit an act which results in harm or is likely to result in harm. Everything else should be the domain of a civil procedure (lawsuit). Let the family collect!

  6. We need more judges with common sense. This judge saved a man from going to prison for an ACCIDENT which occured while cutting trees. I have never done this for hire but I have cleared a lot of pine trees from various properties and it can, and does, occur. I certainly feel sorry for the deceased family but to even consider jail time for the owner shows how insane our “justice” system has gotten. On a side note it is common sense when cutting large trees to know what direction they are falling before you move out of the way!


    I’m sorry, but why did they want to send the owner of the tree trimming company to prison because the guy ran in the same direction the tree fell? In all due respect, duh. If the tree starts to fall, you know which way to run to get out of the way, and it ain’t in the same direction as the tree is falling!

  8. I’m really confused as to why the owner was being prosecuted…doesn’t mention that the owner refused any PPE (hard hat etc) or that the owner told him to go that direction. Also they had former employees that testified they were trained to wait until they could see the direction the tree was falling before they ran out of the way!

    This appears to me as a tragic accident that occured because the worker panicked, perhaps not enough experience for this particular job. You can teach, train, browbeat all the safety procedures you want into someone, but until they have actually seen the situations in real action they just don’t get it.

    To TexasBigFoot: you and I may have common sense, but I can assure you, most of the workers I see do not have common knowledge or common sense. That is why training and preaching safety is so important! Although this death is a horrible waste and I know the family will suffer and grieve for their loss…the gentleman I believe was 22, at this age we were all invincible, undestructable, and a little lax in judgement.


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