Construction Company, Supervisors Charged In Worker’s Death At Meatpacking District Site

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Two construction companies and two supervisors on a Manhattan site were charged with manslaughter and other crimes in the death of a worker who was crushed earlier this year, prosecutors said.

District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. on Wednesday announced the charges in the April death of Carlos Moncayo, 23, an employee with Sky Materials Corp. Moncayo was in an unsecured trench at a site located at 919 Ninth Avenue in the Meatpacking district when it caved.

“He was crushed instantly by the weight and force of the dirt,” Vance said.

The building was once home to the trendy restaurant Pastis and is now being developed into a Restoration Hardware retail store.

Vance said the man’s death was “tragic, but it was also foreseeable and avoidable.” He said repeated warnings were issued about safety hazards at the site in the months, weeks and even minutes before Moncayo’s death. But company supervisors Wilmer Cueva and Alfonso Prestia allowed workers to continue.

Sky was a subcontractor hired to excavate the area, and Harco Construction LLC is the general contractor on the site, officials said. Harco has lost its license, WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reported.

Any excavations deeper than 5 feet must be fortified before workers are allowed inside, officials said. Moncayo was buried alive in the trench that was nearly 14 feet deep, 1010 WINS’ Carol D’Auria reported.

Inspectors first noticed in February the site was unsafe, and despite meetings with the defendants, safety practices did not improve and persisted for months, officials said.

Then on April 6, an inspector went to the site and told Cueva and Prestia the area was unsafe and to get the workers out immediately. Both ignored the pleas, according to prosecutors. Nearly two hours later, Prestia instructed the crew in English to get out, but many only understood Spanish and didn’t, officials said. Just moments after Cueva finally called out to the workers in Spanish to get out, it collapsed. Moncayo was killed.

“When supervisors at construction sites take shortcuts, they take lives,” Vance said.

Cueva, Prestia and their companies were also charged with criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment, and were awaiting arraignment. Lawyers for the men and companies didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment. A woman who answered at Sky had no comment.

Attorney Ron Fischetti, representing Harco Construction, called Moncayo’s death a “tragic accident” that his client isn’t responsible for. “There will not be a settlement or a plea in this case,” he said. “We wish to go to trial as quickly as possible, and we are sure we will be vindicated.”

Building owners had no comment. Construction, which was halted since April, has started again.

“This investigation is about the tragic results when contractors choose to cut corners, ignore city safety regulations and defy the warnings of construction professionals,” said city Department of Investigation head Mark Peters.

The area is home to major construction projects after the development of the High Line park, built in the footprint of an old rail line.

The case has led to changes in how potential safety problems get reported. Going forward, inspectors will have to report unsafe conditions to the Department of Buildings, not just to the contractor.

“Why didn’t we do it this way five years ago? Honestly, we should have,” Peters said.

Vance and Peters also announced a task force that will investigate misconduct in the booming building industry.

They are teaming up with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, along with the Business Integrity Commission to identify and prosecute construction-related crimes.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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