Manslaughter Charges Filed in NYC Construction Death

     MANHATTAN (CN) – Two construction companies and their leaders face manslaughter and other charges for the April death of a 22-year-old worker in the Meatpacking District, Manhattan prosecutors said Wednesday.
     Carlos Moncayo had been working at a construction site on 9-19 Ninth Avenue when an unsecured trench collapsed and crushed him on April 6.
     The site had been two blocks away from the new location of the Whitney Museum of Art and one block from the southbound entrance of the High Line, the popular park built over defunct elevated train tracks.
     Both tourist attractions have brought extensive development to an already fashionable neighborhood that sprang up in a formerly industrial area.
     In investigating to the tragic death, New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said that the NYPD detectives soon discovered it was also a “crime scene.”
     For years, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office has aggressively prosecuted construction companies and their executives accused of cutting corners on construction sites where fatal accidents such as crane collapses and fires have occurred.
     In Moncayo’s case, prosecutors found fault in the Calverton, N.Y.-based excavation subcontractor Sky Materials Corp, the employer of the dead worker, and the Manhattan-based general contractor Harco Construction LLC, also known as H&H Builders.
     Sky’s foreman Wilmer Cueva, 50, and Harco’s senior superintendent Alfonso Prestia, 54, had been “responsible for ensuring workers’ safety and observing basic safety precautions at the development site,” prosecutors said in a statement.
     The companies and the men face identical charges of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment.
     New York City regulations require the fortification of all excavations deeper than five feet to protect workers from cave-ins.
     In February, two months before the accident, an inspector from Domani Inspection Services noticed that conditions at the site were “severely lacking with respect to workers’ safety,” prosecutors say.
     “Despite meetings with the defendants and repeated email warnings about these deficiencies, safety practices did not improve and persisted for a period of several months,” according to prosecutors’ statement.
     Prosecutors claim that the ignored warning continued until moments before Moncayo’s death.
     That morning at 9:45 a.m., they say, a different Domani inspector told Prestia and Cueva that no workers should be allowed to enter seven-foot-deep trench at the site that he noticed was entirely unfortified.
     Less than an hour later, the trench had reached about 13 feet in depth, and the inspector again urged Cueva in vain to halt work around the trench, prosecutors say.
     At 11:30 a.m., Prestia allegedly left the trailer and told his Spanish-speaking workers, in English, to get out of the trench.
     When the workers continued what they were doing, Cueva repeated the directive 20 minutes later in Spanish, but by then it was too late because the trench collapsed “moments later,” prosecutors say.
     The city’s Department of Buildings suspended Harco’s license, but it has not done so with Sky.
     Also on Wednesday, the city announced the formation of a Construction Fraud Task Force to tackle what Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance described as the “hazardous lapses” in safety accompanying what he called New York’s “historic building boom.”
     The announcement marked a further sign that defeats in high-profile cases against construction companies, executives and workers has not made the city shy about bringing more cases.
     Manhattan prosecutors brought and lost high-profile cases cases against New York Crane mogul James Lomma and four defendants alleged to be negligent in the Deutsche Bank fire of 2007
     Harco’s lawyer Ron Fischetti and Sky’s attorney Brian Gardner did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
     The men face a maximum sentence of five to 15 years in prison.

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