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Owner, Manager Guilty in Cave-in Death

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

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MILPITAS, CA—A California jury has convicted a construction company owner and project manager for causing the 2012 cave-in death of an employee in Milpitas.

Richard Liu, 53, the owner and CEO of U.S. Sino Investment Inc., and project manager Dan Luo, 36, were both convicted of the involuntary manslaughter of Raul Zapata, 38, of Zacatecas, Mexico, authorities announced May 19.


Raul Zapata, 38, of Zacatecas, Mexico, was crushed to death when several thousand pounds of dirt and rock fell on him at job site in Milpitas, CA. Work at the site had been deemed unsafe by city building inspectors, but crews continued to work on the project.

Luo was also convicted of three felony labor code violations for causing the death of an employee through negligence.

Both men face a maximum of four years in prison, according to prosecutors.

Sentencing is scheduled for July 17.

Ignored ‘Stop Work’ Order

Zapata perished Jan. 28, 2012, three days after building inspectors in Milpitas ordered the company to stop construction of a mansion because of hazards at the job site, authorities said.

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

It had been Zapata’s second week working on the $700,000 hillside project. He had been involved in masonry and carpentry work at the residence, according to the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Zapata was pronounced dead at the scene; however, his body was not recovered for several days due to the instability of the soil and risk of future collapse.


In June, Cal-OSHA hit the company with $168,175 in fines for 14 safety violations—two willful, three serious and nine other-than-serious. The case against the now-defunct company is still listed as open, per OSHA’s database.

According to Cal-OSHA, the excavation wall that gave way had no soil support system installed as required by the agency’s trenching and excavation regulations. 

Screengrab via NBC Bay Area

After a two-month trial, it took the California jury just two days to issue a guilty verdict in the case against U.S. Sino Investments owner and project manager.

Further, California law also requires an annual or project-specific permit for any work that involves a trench or excavation wall exceeding five feet in depth into which workers may be lowered. The company did not obtain such a permit, the agency alleged.

In a statement provided at the time of the citations, Cal-OSHA Chief Ellen Widess said, “We think this case is particularly appropriate for criminal referral based on the egregious facts leading to the worker’s death.”

‘Reckless Gamble’

Prosecutors described the case as a “rare trial aimed at holding an employer criminally responsible for the death of an employee on the job.”  

“By cutting corners on worker safety, the defendants gambled with the lives of other human beings,” Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Bud Porter said in a statement.

“Their reckless gamble caused the needless death of Mr. Zapata.”

Unqualified to Manage

During the two-month-long trial, prosecutors said Luo, who had no previous experience in construction, had been unqualified to manage the project, according to reports.

retaining wall
Screengrab via NBC Bay Area

Inspectors had deemed the residential job site unsafe after recent rainfall.

“Luo was not licensed and not qualified to be in charge,” Porter told Mercury News.

Further, prosecutors said that Liu, who was in China at the time of the incident, was also involved in the day-to-day decisions of the company.

Both men were indicted in July 2012. Liu was arrested in November 2012 upon his return to the United States.

Reports said the Fremont-based company had completed several million-dollar projects prior to the accident and were likely driven by pressure to stay on schedule.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Construction; Criminal acts; Fatalities; Good Technical Practice; Health and safety; Lawsuits; North America; Residential contractors

Comment from john lienert, (6/2/2015, 8:06 AM)

4 years for MURDER......wonder what their sentence would be in their beloved homeland ??

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