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Foreman Ignored Warnings, Gets Prison

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

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A foreman who repeatedly ignored warnings of unsafe work conditions on a Manhattan building site will spend one to three years in state prison for his role in the 2015 death of a worker there, authorities announced Thursday (Dec. 15).

Wilmer Cueva, 51, of Elmwood Park, NJ, was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment by a New York State Supreme Court jury in November, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said.

NYPD / courtesy of 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.

Cueva was accused of directing workers to perform illegal excavation work and ignoring repeated warnings about unsafe conditions leading to the death of 22-year-old worker Carlos Moncayo on April 6.

Both were employees of Sky Materials, an excavation subcontractor, and Cueva served as the on-site foreman at a building project at 9-19 Ninth Avenue, prosecutors said.

Unsafe Trench

Building codes and Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations require excavations deeper than five feet to be fortified in order to protect workers and guard against collapse. Usual methods of fortification include sloping or shoring the walls of the trench.

In this case, prosecutors said trenches were not protected by fortification, in spite of repeated warnings.

The morning of the collapse, an inspector observed workers inside an unsecured 13-foot trench and issued warnings to Cueva, telling him that the workers needed to get out of the trench immediately. The inspector was said to have suggested alternative methods of completing the task that did not require workers to continue in the trench.

Repeated Warnings

However, Cueva rejected the inspector’s proposal and warnings and permitted the workers to continue in the trench for two hours. The trench caved in shortly before noon, fatally crushing Moncayo.

“Wilmer Cueva knowingly and repeatedly risked his workers’ lives in service of an ambitious construction schedule,” Vance said in a statement. “In the face of multiple warnings about the perilous conditions he created at 9-19 Ninth Avenue, Cueva personally directed—and then declined to stop—his illegal excavation work, and Carlos Moncayo, a young man working to support his family, perished needlessly as a result. “

Related Cases

Earlier this year, the site’s general contractor Harco Construction was convicted by a judge on manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment charges.

Alfonso Prestia, 54, a Harco supervisor, who was also charged in the case, faced a jury in September. However, a mistrial was declared, reports relate. Authorities said they intend to retry the case.

The case against Sky Materials Corp is pending.

Vance said he hoped that the Cueva case results would send a message to “construction supervisors to prioritize their workers’ safety ahead of expediency and profit.”


Tagged categories: Commercial Construction; Ethics; Fatalities; General contractors; Health and safety; Maintenance + Renovation; Project Management; Safety; Subcontractors

Comment from Dennis Guy, (12/20/2016, 9:25 AM)

Wow! I didn't know a person could ignore an inspector to his face like that. Stupid thing to do. Thoughts and prayers.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (12/20/2016, 11:39 AM)

I'm glad this has been resolved and that people are being held accountable. Dennis, I'm not sure what kind and level the inspector was... it may have been a local inspector who may not have had authority to stop work on the spot, but rather had to do the paperwork to get authorization to stop them. Regardless, I agree, 100% preventable and 100% stupid to beak off to the inspector. Hopefully this provides some closure to the family.

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