Testimony began Wednesday in the manslaughter trial of a foreman for Long Island-based Sky Materials Corp. triggered by the 2015 cave-in at a Manhattan construction site that killed Ecuadorian immigrant laborer Carlos Moncayo.
Prosecutors say Wilmer Cueva, 51, of Elmwood Park, New Jersey, ignored warnings and recklessly let Moncayo and other laborers work in an unshored 14-foot trench. He is charged with criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment as well as manslaughter.
“Carlos Moncayo paid for Cueva’s reckless choice with his life,” prosecutor Diana Florence told jurors in her opening statement in Supreme Court in Manhattan.
Defense lawyer Cesar deCastro said his client was put in charge by Sky, the excavation subcontractor, with little safety training, and was a Spanish-speaker with limited ability to understand instructions he was given in English, calling him “simply a laborer like Mr. Moncayo with a title.”
“This case is tragic, but it is not criminal,” he said.
Moncayo, 22, died on April 6, 2015, at a Ninth Avenue site being readied for Restoration Hardware. General contractor Harco Construction LLC, was convicted of manslaughter in June. A jury deadlocked on charges against Harco site supervisor Alfonso Prestia last month and he is expected to be retried.
Sky, of Calverton and Queens, also is charged. Its case was severed from Cueva’s this week. A person familiar with the case said the company had an “in principle” agreement on a disposition, but a spokeswoman for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. declined to comment.
A lawyer for Sky did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. Sky and its owner, Michael Cholowsky, 52, of Manhasset, also face insurance fraud charges in a separate case for falsifying payroll to avoid workers’ compensation premiums.