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 this year, authorities said Wednesday in announcing a task force that will investigate misconduct in the booming building industry.
District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the NYPD and the city's Department of Investigation announced the charges in the April death of Carlos Moncayo, 22, an employee with Sky Materials Corp. Moncayo was in an unsecured trench at a site in the Meatpacking District when it caved. The building was once home to the trendy 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 warning were issued about safety hazards at the Ninth Avenue site in the months, weeks and even minutes before Moncayo's death. But company supervisors Wilmer Cueva and Alfonso Prestia allowed workers to continue, he said.
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 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 warnings, according to prosecutors. Nearly two hours later, Prestia instructed the crew in English to get out, but many didn't and understood Spanish only, officials said. Just moments after Cueva finally called out to the workers in Spanish to get out, it collapsed. Moncayo was killed.
"What our detectives quickly learned was that this construction site was also a crime scene," said Police Commissioner William Bratton.
Cueva, Prestia and their companies were also charged with criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment and were awaiting arraignment. Lawyers for Prestia and Sky didn't immediately return messages seeking comment. A woman who answered at Sky had no comment.
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" 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 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.
The Department of Investigation and other law enforcers "will continue to hold accountable those who are indifferent to the dangerous construction practices endangering their workers and all New Yorkers," Peters said.
-Associated Press writer Jake Pearson contributed to this report