INDUSTRY INSIDER | April 23, 2024

Contractor Charged with Negligent Homicide on New York Trench Collapse

Original Source: CT Post

Prosecutors in New York have charged a Bethel contractor with negligent homicide in the death of a construction worker nearly three years ago, after they say the contractor failed to take precautions while digging a 9-foot trench, causing it to collapse and bury the worker.

Michael Conway was also charged with two misdemeanor counts of second-degree reckless endangerment in the death of Jose Vega, the Westchester County N.Y. District Attorney’s Office said. The charge of negligent homicide is a felony.

Conway, 59, is the director of project development for Lecher Development LLC, the D.A.’s office said. He was arrested by Village of Mamaroneck police after a Westchester County grand jury handed down and indictment and arraigned Friday in Westchester County Court, the DA’s office said.

“For the first time in Westchester County, we are seeking to hold a contractor accountable for the death of a worker at a construction site that allegedly lacked proper safety measures,” Miriam E. Rocah, the district attorney, said in a statement. “My Office will seek justice for the family of Jose Vega and continue to ensure workers’ safety remains a priority across the county to prevent fatalities like this one.”

Richard L. Ferrante, Conway’s lawyer, said in an interview that his client had been hired to locate a sewer line by the general contractor, who had subcontracted the actual digging to an excavation company.
“He wasn’t in a supervisory position of the excavation company,” Ferrante said Monday. “From all the evidence we’ve seen so far, I do not believe my client has criminal liability,” he added.

Ferrante said he intends to file a motion to have the charges dismissed.The fatal accident occurred during the afternoon hours on May 4, 2021. Prosecutors say Conway told two workers to dig a trench “without proper shoring or cave-in protections in place” during construction at a residential site on Shore Acres Drive in Mamaroneck.

“It is further alleged that the defendant, as the site supervisor, knew the excavation was in violation of OSHA regulations, which require a trench deeper than five feet to have protections that prevent the walls from caving in,” a news release from the DA’s office stated, referring to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The 9-foot trench then collapsed, burying Vega in the dirt. Authorities attempted to rescue him, but he was pronounced dead at the scene, the DA’s office said.

OSHA has also issued civil citations and penalties over Vega’s death, said Richard Mendelson, the agency’s regional administrator, in a statement issued by the DA’s office. “The addition of this criminal enforcement effort by the District Attorney sends an even stronger message that high-hazard industries, such as excavation, must follow safety standards,” the statement said.

Conway is due to appear back in court March 22.

Like the case in New York, Connecticut authorities have brought criminal charges against construction operators.
Last year, Vernon police charged the owner of a Manchester construction company and a heavy equipment operator in the death of a worker after a trench collapse in 2022. The warrant said the owner failed to have a trench box — a special structure that goes in a trench to prevent it from collapsing; and that the operator tried to dig the worker out with heavy equipment after the collapse.

Dennis Botticello, owner of Botticello Inc., and Glen Locke, the equipment operator, were both charged with first-degree manslaughter and first-degree reckless endangerment. Neither man has entered a plea, and both cases remain ongoing.