Construction site owner indicted after ignored warnings leads to death of teenage worker
Williamsburg Resident Faces Up to 15 Years in Prison
The owner of a Bedford-Stuyvesant construction company faces up to 15 years in jail after he was indicted on manslaughter and other charges stemming from an incident in which a collapsed wall killed a teenage worker and injured two others, Acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced at a press conference on Wednesday.
“Fernando Vanegaz should be alive today,” Gonzalez said. “Construction site deaths such as his are becoming all too common as builders ignore safety protocols and hire untrained workers to maximize profits.
“Even worse, we allege, is that in this case the builder went ahead with this illicit excavation even after the Department of Buildings [DOB] explicitly prohibited it,” Gonzalez continued. “I vow to continue investigating and prosecuting these unscrupulous builders whose practices endanger their workers and anyone near their sites.”
Michael Weiss, a 47-year-old who lives in Williamsburg, is the owner of RSBY NY Builders Inc. and Park Ave Builders Inc., both located in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Weiss was arraigned Wednesday before Justice Danny Chun in the Kings County Supreme Court.
The 14-count indictment included charges of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment. Weiss was held on bail of $250,000 bond or $100,000 cash and has to return to court on Aug. 9, 2017. He could spend up to 15 years in prison if convicted of the top charge. The co-defendant in the case face up to one year in jail if he is convicted on lesser charges.
According to the indictment, on Sept. 3, 2015, Weiss’ employees were working at the construction site located at 656 Myrtle Ave. in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Weiss had ordered several employees to excavate the rear of the lot in an area that was not permitted by the approved Department of Buildings plans and without the knowledge of other professionals involved in the project.
The indictment alleges that Weiss ignored multiple requests from his employees, and OSHA regulations, to shore up the underpinning of the excavation and adjacent walls and insisted the workers continue in unsafe conditions. At around 11:30 a.m., the wall of the adjacent building collapsed and killed Vanegaz, who was just 18 years old.
“We have seen the tragic results on construction sites too many times when contractors ignore repeated warnings of danger and put the lives of workers at risk,” said Mark G. Peters, commissioner of the NYC Department of Investigation. “In this case the warnings were clear, but the defendant disregarded them at a deadly cost.”
Vanegaz suffered severe head trauma, lacerations to his head, broken legs and cardiac arrest. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Two other employees were hurt during the collapse. One worker needed multiple surgeries and still cannot walk properly after he suffered a fractured lumbar vertebra, a fractured hip and injury to his spine. Another employee fractured his lumbar vertebra, nose, skull, orbital area, ribs and facial bone. He also had his face and scalp crushed and continues to suffer from constant back pain even after surgery.
The acting DA said that Weiss began working on the site in June 2015 after being hired by the building’s owner to replace a one-story building with a five-story one. Weiss did not have the appropriate licenses with the DOB to apply for the permits to perform the work. He hired seven workers with little to no training and without Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety certifications to do the demolition.
The indictment alleges that several workers complained to Weiss about the excavation conditions and the lack of more experienced workers repeatedly going back to July 2015. By September 2015, excavation in the rear of the lot was more than six feet below the foundation of the adjacent building.
On Sept. 2, 2015, workers allegedly asked Weiss for lumber to shore up the wall and were denied. On Sept. 3, 2015, a worker, concerned about a crack in the wall, again asked for lumber to shore up the wall and said it was in danger of collapse. Weiss allegedly told workers that they were working too slowly just prior to the wall collapse.
Weiss also allegedly failed to maintain workers’ compensation insurance coverage, and applied for coverage a mere hours after the collapse. Investigators also alleged that he failed to report $75,000 worth of income from the job and hit Weiss with tax fraud charges as a result.
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