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Charges Filed in NY Wall Collapse Death

Friday, May 12, 2017

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The owner of two New York construction companies was indicted Wednesday (May 10) for putting workers in danger after allegedly ignoring their concerns about an unstable wall that collapsed at a work site, killing a teenage laborer and seriously injured two others.

Michael Weiss, 47, owner of RSBY NY Builders Inc. and Park Ave. Builders Inc., faces up to 15 years for the top charge of second-degree manslaughter. He also was accused of reckless endangerment, assault, grand larceny, tax fraud and falsifying business records.

Weiss posted $100,000 cash bond after his arraignment in Brooklyn Supreme Court. He is due back in court in August.

Prosecutors said Weiss paid a co-defendant $10,000 to sign work permit applications and insurance certificates as general contractor after excavation in the rear of the building was not permitted by the Department of Buildings. Weiss’ co-conspirator has not been named or arrested.

Inexperienced Crew

Weiss had hired 18-year-old Fernando Vanegaz, an immigrant from Ecuador, and six other inexperienced workers for a project replacing a one-story structure with a five-story building—intended to house a shoe store and apartments—in Brooklyn.

During ongoing construction from June to September 2015, the workers warned Weiss about hiring more experienced workers and the instability of the rear concrete wall that was cracked, but to no avail, prosecutors said.

On Sept. 15, 2015, a worker who was worried about the crack asked Weiss and his supervisor for lumber to help brace the wall. Prosecutors said masonry blocks and debris collapsed on Vanegaz and two other workers shortly before noon that day.

Fatal Injuries

Vanegaz suffered head trauma, lacerations to his head, broken legs and cardiac arrest. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

“Fernando Vanegaz should be alive today,” acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said during a press conference after Weiss’ charges were announced. “Construction site deaths such as his are becoming all too common as builders ignore safety protocols and hire untrained workers to maximize profits.”

Photo courtesy of Brooklyn District Attorney's Office

Prosecutors said masonry blocks and debris collapsed on Fernando Vanegaz and two other workers shortly before noon on Sept. 15, 2015, at this Myrtle Avenue construction site in Brooklyn. Vanegaz was killed, and the two other workers suffered serious injuries.

A second worker suffered a fracture of the lumbar vertebra, a fractured hip and a spine injury. He has undergone multiple surgeries and continues to have difficulty walking.

A third worker also suffered a lumbar vertebra fracture, as well as a fractured nose, skull and orbital area, a crushed face and scalp, a fractured rib and other facial bone fractures. He has had back surgery and has difficulty with physical activity.

Tracking Tragedies

New York City Council passed a bill April 25 to track deaths at construction sites. Investigation Department Commissioner Mark Peters said Wednesday that 33 workers have died on job sites in New York’s five boroughs since January 2015.

“We have seen the tragic results on construction sites too many times when contractors ignore repeated warnings of danger and put the lives of workers at risk,” Peters said during Wednesday's press conference. “I this case, the warnings were clear, but the defendant disregarded them at a deadly cost.”

   

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

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