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Contractor Convicted in NYC Pit Collapse

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

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A New York construction company was convicted Friday on a manslaughter charge stemming from the death of a worker in a trench collapse in Manhattan last year.

Harco Construction LLC went on trial in the death of 22-year-old Carlos Moncayo, who died in a collapse at a retail construction site in April of 2015. Charges were filed against general contractor Harco, as well as subcontractor Sky Materials Corp. and two individual supervisors, last August.

Site of fatal collapse
Photos: Manhattan District Attorney's Office

The trench at the Manhattan site, shown here the day of the incident, was more than 13 feet deep when the collapse occurred.

The nearly 14-foot trench collapsed on Moncayo on the morning of April 6, 2015. According to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, inspectors on the jobsite that morning warned supervisors multiple times that the trench was dangerous, but the supervisors’ attempts to get workers out of it were allegedly delayed and insufficient.

While Moncavo and the other workers in the trench that day were working for Sky Materials, the D.A.’s office argues that Harco, the general contractor, “failed to address unsafe working conditions, leading to [the] fatal cave-in.”

The Charges

Harco was convicted of second degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and three counts of reckless endangerment. The company was acquitted on one additional count of reckless endangerment. Sentencing is expected to take place July 13.

Subcontractor Sky Materials Corp. and two jobsite supervisors who were present that day, Alfonso Prestia and Wilmer Cueva, still face the same charges at this time, according to D.A. Cyrus Vance’s office.

Cueva, a Sky Materials employee, reportedly was known to regularly ignore safety rules on jobsites, according to the District Attorney. Harco employees, including Prestia, are said to have attempted to warn higher-ups at Harco via email about the dangers on the site, but were threatened with termination if they continued their complaints, according to the D.A.’s office.

Harco Response

“There was no evidence that Harco, the general contractor, was involved in any wrongdoing,” Harco attorney Ronald P. Fischetti told The New York Times after the verdict. “If the verdict stands, this would have a chilling effect on all law-abiding contractors in the city.”

At the time of the indictment last year, Fischetti told CBS New York, “We wish to go to trial as quickly as possible, and we are sure we will be vindicated.”

After the fatal collapse, work was stopped, and Harco and its owner, Kenneth Hart, lost their Department of Buildings registration, the first time such a measure was taken to address repeated safety violations.

Trench Safety Rules

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, worksite trenches deeper than five feet much have a protective system, unless the excavation is entirely on stable rock. Systems could include shoring or shielding the trench walls, or sloping the walls out so that they’re less likely to cave in.

The trench at the site that day was more than 13 feet deep when the collapse occurred.

Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance

"Managing a project from afar does not insulate a corporation or general contractor from criminal liability,” said Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance.

The construction was taking place in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, on the former site of the well-known restaurant Pastis, which operated there from 1999-2014. The restaurant has said it plans to reopen in the same location when possible. The construction was to prepare for the opening of a Restoration Hardware retail location, which has not yet opened on the site.

The Victim

Moncayo, according to media reports, was a 22-year-old undocumented immigrant from Ecuador, living with his sister in Queens. The job site was non-union, and many of the workers were undocumented, according to reports. D.A. Vance said Moncayo's mother traveled regularly from Ecuador to attend trial proceedings.

“Carlos Moncayo’s death at a Manhattan construction site may have been foreseeable and preventable, but his family can be assured that it will not be in vain,” Vance said in a statement. “Today’s guilty verdict should signal to the construction industry ‎that managing a project from afar does not insulate a corporation or general contractor from criminal liability.”



Tagged categories: Accidents; Construction; Contractors; Good Technical Practice; Laws and litigation; North America; Safety; Workers

Comment from john lienert, (6/14/2016, 8:01 AM)

cueva and prestia need prison time......they knew what they were them it was a $$$thing....cheaper to bury an illegal than to lease shoring equipment

Comment from Dick Piper, (6/14/2016, 11:42 AM)

I agree with the first comment. Jail time is the only deterrent that works. Please follow up on this story.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (6/14/2016, 11:53 AM)

Article makes it sound like Prestia was at least trying to get action on the problem. Don't know how much that'll help him at his trial. Also sounds like Cueva has a history of this...won't help him at trial.

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