A construction company owner and foreman were convicted of homicide and other charges in relation to a fatal wall collapse at a New York City worksite.
Jiaxi “Jimmy” Liu, owner of WSC Group Inc., and Wilson Garcia Jr., a foreman for the company, were both convicted at trial for the death of Luis Almonte Sanchez, who was buried under thousands of pounds of debris when a wall at a construction site collapsed.
WSC Group also defrauded the New York State Insurance Fund by making false statements about who it was employing, and committed tax fraud by failing to file taxes between 2015 and 2018.
Liu was convicted of criminally negligent homicide, first-degree offering a false instrument for filing, fraudulent practices in violation of workers’ compensation laws, fourth-degree city criminal tax fraud and related charges. He’s facing a maximum sentence of eight to 16 years in prison.
Garcia was convicted of fourth-degree criminal mischief. He’s facing up to one year in jail.
They’re both scheduled for sentencing on April 26, 2023.
Two other people associated with the contractor had also entered guilty pleas: Jia Rong “Tommy” Liu to petit larceny and Cindy Chai to tax fraud.
Dangerous conditions reported, no action taken
An investigation into the incident provided evidence revealing that between April and September 2018, workers for WSC Group performed demolition, excavation and foundation work at a construction site in New York City’s Sunset Park.
The construction involved removing a one-story industrial building and replacing it with a four-story manufacturing and community facility. The facility would include a new cellar level that would serve as an underground garage approximately nine feet below the first floor.
Adjacent property owners and workers warned Liu of dangerous conditions at the site, but Liu refused to stop work.
Wall collapses, Sanchez struck by 15,000-pound piece of debris
On Sept. 12, 2018, a portion of an excavation support system and an existing wall adjacent to some residential apartment buildings collapsed.
One of the construction workers, Sanchez, was trapped while performing foundation work in the immediate area. Sanchez was struck by a 15,000-pound pin section before being buried under debris. First responders couldn’t recover Sanchez’s body until the next day because of unstable conditions at the site. Those conditions further degraded due to significant rainfall.
Worksite wasn’t in compliance with OSHA, city regulations
Liu was charged for the fatality since it was his responsibility to give instructions to the foreman and workers. Garcia, as the foreman and competent person on the construction site, was held responsible since it was his job to identify and mitigate hazards.
Investigators found the worksite wasn’t in compliance with OSHA or the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) safety requirements. Further, design plans submitted to and approved by the DOB weren’t followed. Liu and his company solicited new plans, which weren’t submitted to the DOB, but “ultimately didn’t follow any plans, leading to hazardous conditions at the site.”
Warnings went unheeded
Liu had also received warnings of several dangerous conditions just before the incident occurred, including:
- notification that the rear wall was moving forward and that some support was needed to stop the movement, and
- a warning from a nearby resident who lived immediately adjacent to the rear wall that her patio and garage had caved in.
Despite these warnings, Liu refused to install additional bracing and never halted work at the site to assess or correct the dangerous conditions. He also failed to notify the DOB about the conditions.
Liu let work continue and allowed a trucking company to continue to remove truckloads of dirt during a heavy rainstorm, which further destabilized the worksite and contributed to the fatal collapse.