The Manhattan district attorney filed charges Wednesday against two construction companies and two supervisors over the April death of an Ecuadorean worker crushed in a trench collapse moments after not understanding a warning in English to get out.
District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said the death of Carlos Moncayo, 22, at a site in the meatpacking district highlighted how sloppy practices during a building boom in the city are driving up construction fatalities -- from 15 in 2014 to 10 already in 2015.
General contractor Harco Construction LLC, excavator Sky Materials Corp., foreman Wilmer Cueva and site superintendent Alfonso Prestia were charged with manslaughter, negligent homicide and endangerment for ignoring safety warnings and sending Moncayo into a 13-foot trench without shoring, Vance said.
The four defendants pleaded not guilty in a court appearance Wednesday afternoon, and Prestia and Cueva were released on $100,000 bonds. The next court appearance is Sept. 25.
"Carlos Moncayo's death at a construction site was tragic, but it was also foreseeable and avoidable," he said.
The site, at 9-19 Ninth Ave., was being developed by Aurora Capital Advisors for a Restoration Hardware store. It was shut down after the April 6 accident, but work recently resumed.
Vance said an inspection company at the site had repeatedly warned Cueva, Prestia and their companies about safety hazards, but was ignored. On April 6 the safety inspector raised alarms about the unfortified trench, but after a two-hour delay, Prestia's order to Moncayo and three other workers to get out was ignored because they spoke Spanish, he said.
Twenty minutes later, prosecutors said, Cueva repeated the direction in Spanish, just as the trench began collapsing, burying Moncayo up to his neck and killing him instantly as his body was crushed by thousands of pounds of dirt.
Vance said Moncayo was an undocumented worker who came to the United States after graduating from high school and lived with his sister and her children. City Department of Investigations Commissioner Mark Peters said he had taken a $500 OSHA-required course to learn how to build scaffolding.
"The irony here is too great to ignore," Peters said. "An immigrant to this country scrapes together $500 to make sure he complies with the laws . . . A company that can afford to do things right decides to cut corners, evade the law and gets that immigrant killed."
Vance said the investigation is still continuing into whether higher-ups at the construction companies should be charged. Peters said the city has now adopted a rule requiring special inspectors to contact the building department when their warnings are not heeded.