NEW YORK (AP) - Two construction companies and two supervisors were charged with manslaughter and other crimes in the death of a worker who was crushed this year, authorities said Wednesday in announcing a task force to investigate misconduct in the booming building industry.
District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the New York Police Department and the city’s Department of Investigation announced the charges in the April death of Carlos Moncayo, an employee with Sky Materials Corp. Moncayo was in an unsecured trench at a building site in Manhattan’s trendy Meatpacking District when it caved. The building was once home to the restaurant Pastis and is now being developed into a Restoration Hardware retail store.
Vance said the worker’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. Any excavations deeper than 5 feet must be fortified before workers are allowed inside, and the area was that deep or deeper, officials said. Inspectors first noticed in February the site was unsafe and, despite meetings with the defendants, safety practices did not improve, 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. Nearly two hours later, Prestia instructed the crew in English to get out, but many workers understood only Spanish and didn’t get out, officials said. Just moments after Cueva finally called out to the workers in Spanish to get out, the trench collapsed, killing Moncayo, authorities said.
”What our detectives quickly learned was that this construction site was also a crime scene,’ police Commissioner William Bratton said.
Cueva, Prestia and their companies also were charged with criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment. They pleaded not guilty Wednesday. Cueva and Prestia were released on bail.
An attorney for Cueva, Cesar de Castro, described what happened as an accident and said his client mourns Moncayo ”but does not bear criminal responsibility for his death.’
Attorney Ron Fischetti, representing Harco Construction, called Moncayo’s death a ”tragic accident’ for which his client isn’t responsible.
”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.’
Lawyers for Prestia and Sky didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment. A woman who answered the phone at Sky had no comment.
Building owners also had no comment. Construction was halted in April but has started again.
The area is home to major construction projects after the development of the High Line Park, built in the footprint of an old elevated freight rail line. Vance and Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters are teaming up with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Business Integrity Commission to identify and prosecute construction-related crimes.
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