A foreman and a site superintendent face manslaughter and other charges in connection with the death of a construction worker in an unprotected trench in New York City.
The Manhattan District Attorney announced the indictments of Wilmer Cueva, Alfonso Prestia, Sky Materials Corp. and Harco Construction LLC (aka H&H Builders Inc.) for recklessly causing the death of Carlos Moncayo, a Sky employee, by failing to heed repeated warnings about unsafe trenches.
The 13-foot deep trench collapsed, crushing Moncayo to death.
Officials say the companies received multiple warnings about unsafe conditions at the construction site, including on the day of the cave-in. The DA’s office gives this account:
In February, an inspector noticed trenches at the site weren’t sloped or shored as required by OSHA. The inspector warned the companies about the trenches and also sent several email warnings.
At 9:45 a.m. on April 6, an inspector noted there was a seven-foot-deep unprotected trench (trenches must be sloped, shored or otherwise protected when they reach five-feet-deep).
The inspector notified Prestia and Cueva.
At 10:35 a.m., the same inspector noticed four workers inside the same trench which had reached 13 feet deep. The inspector told Cueva the workers needed to get out of the unprotected trench. Cueva refused to give an order to get out.
At about 11:30 a.m., Prestia told the workers in English to get out of the trench. However, the workers primarily spoke Spanish and didn’t get out of the excavation. About 20 minutes later, Cueva repeated the warning in Spanish.
Moments later, the trench collapsed, fatally crushing Moncayo, who was 22.
The New York City Department of Buildings immediately issued a stop work order against Harco and suspended its general contracting license.
The two supervisors and two companies all face the same charges:
- one count of second degree manslaughter
- one count of criminally negligent homicide, and
- four counts of second degree reckless endangerment.
The NYC DA says it’s still determining whether to charge higher-ups at the construction companies.
Officials say Moncayo was an undocumented worker. Moncayo had paid $500 out of his own pocket to take an OSHA-required course to learn how to build scaffolding.
“The irony here is too great,” said City Department of Investigations Commissioner Mark Peters. “An immigrant to this country scrapes together $500 to make sure he complies with the laws … A company that can afford to do things right decides to cut corners, evade the law and gets that immigrant killed.”
DA Cyrus Vance Jr. said the two supervisors and their companies “recklessly disregard[ed] their professional responsibility to protect workers.”
Criminal prosecution of supervisors and companies in connection with employee deaths is still rare. However, federal OSHA has been referring more cases for possible prosecution, and local authorities in some areas, including New York City, have also been stepping up attempts to hold employers and individuals responsible for worker deaths.