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CEO Surrenders In Manslaughter Case

Monday, November 10, 2014

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The CEO of a California construction company has returned to the United States to face manslaughter charges stemming from a trench collapse that buried an employee alive.

Raul Zapata Mercado, 38, perished in January 2012, three days after building inspectors in Milpitas, CA, ordered Richard Liu's U.S. Sino Investment Inc. to stop construction of a mansion because of hazards at the job site, officials have said.

The general contractor ignored the stop-work order, which was posted at the site, until the walls of a rain-soaked 12-foot-deep retaining wall caved in and crushed the skull of Zapata, a married father of three children.

Recovery Hazards

Liu, now 52, was in China at the time of the incident and stayed there, officials said.

Milpitas home site
Screen grabs via

Dangerous conditions at the sprawling luxury home site in Milpitas, CA, prompted local building officials to post a stop-work order there three days before the fatal accident.

Milpitas chief building inspector Keyvan Irannejad told the local ABC affiliate at the time that Liu had tried to stall the recovery of Zapata's body by demanding to see a contract for the work.

As it was, the body was not recovered for several days, due to the instability of the soil and risk of further cave-in, a local NBC affiliate reported.

State records show that Liu's company lacked worker's compensation insurance, the ABC station reported. Liu also lacked an excavation permit for the construction, prosecutors told the San Jose Mercury News.

California's Contractor State License Board suspended the company's license shortly after the accident.

Citations, Fines and Charges

In June 2012, the California Department of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal-OSHA) issued multiple willful and serious citations against U.S. Sino in the case and assessed fines totaling $168,175.

Zapata's family has filed a $25 million wrongful-death suit against Liu, whose insurance company is suing to avoid covering that defense.

In August 2014, a grand jury indicted Liu, now 52; project manager Dan Luo; and U.S. Sino on charges of involuntary manslaughter. A $1 million arrest warrant was issued for Liu, and Luo was taken into custody.

On Nov. 4, Liu returned to the United States and was arrested immediately upon arrival at San Francisco International Airport. He was being held in the Santa Clara County Jail and is likely to be tried with Luo, who is currently out on bond.

Milpitas Home Site

Raul Zapata Mercado, a married father of three, was buried alive at the bottom of a 12-foot-deep unsupported retaining wall. The CEO of his company is charged with manslaughter.

The men each face four years in prison on the charge if convicted; the now-defunct company faces millions of dollars in fines, reports said.

'Great Sympathy'

Reports said that U.S. Sino, of Fremont, CA, had completed several million-dollar projects before the accident.

Liu’s attorney says that his client “has great sympathy” for Zapata but denies any wrongdoing.

Zapata, a farmer from Zacatecas, Mexico, emigrated to the Bay Area after a drought ruined his crops, the Mercury News reported.

'Criminal Negligence'

Deputy District Attorney Bud Porter told news media that it was unusual for a company to be charged criminally but that the death clearly reflected criminal negligence—"acting in a reckless way that created great risk," he said.

"This is not a multinational corporation, where the head of it has no idea of what's happening on the job site. Richard Liu was involved in decision-making on a daily basis.''

And District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a statement: "What happened to Raul Zapata Mercado was not an accident; it was a crime.”


Tagged categories: Accidents; Fatalities; Good Technical Practice; Laws and litigation; Lawsuits; North America; OSHA; Residential Construction; Residential contractors

Comment from john lienert, (11/10/2014, 9:10 AM)

hang him high

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