Authorities in California have arrested a business owner in connection with the death of a worker in a trench in January 2012.
Richard Liu was arrested on a $1 million warrant at the San Francisco airport after flying in from China.
Liu is charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of Raul Zapata Mercado.
Mercado, a carpenter, was buried alive under a 12-foot excavation wall at a Milpitas, CA, residential construction site. He’d been working at the base of the excavation wall when it collapsed on him and crushed his skull.
His death occurred after several days of rain in the area. The ground was drenched, and the situation around the trench was so dangerous that rescuers couldn’t remove his body until two days later.
Cal/OSHA said the excavation wall that gave way had no soil support system installed as required by regulation. Liu’s company, US-Sino Investments of Fremont, didn’t have a required permit for trench and excavation work exceeding five feet in depth into which workers might be lowered.
Earlier this year, a grand jury indicted Liu, project manager Dan Luo and the company for causing the death. Liu’s lawyer says his client believes he and his company are innocent of any criminal wrongdoing.
Liu’s defense is based on what he claims a building inspector did. According to Liu, the inspector never issued a stop-work order. Records indicate the inspector issued a stop-work order.
Santa Clara County prosecutor Bud Porter told the Contra Costa Times that it doesn’t matter whether the inspector issued the order or not. “Criminal negligence existed in the absence of the stop-work notice,” Porter said.
Cal/OSHA issued 14 citations to US-Sino, two of them willful, totaling $1658,175.
If Liu is convicted of involuntary manslaughter, he faces a maximum sentence of four years in jail. The company could be fined $1.5 million if it’s found guilty of violating labor code charges.