Contractor, foreman and engineer charged with manslaughter for death of laborer in Brooklyn wall collapse

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714 39th St july 2019
Site of the fatal event at 714 39th St. (Google Maps image, June 2019)

Six people have been indicted on manslaughter and other charges after a wall collapsed at an excavation site, killing a construction worker, Luis Almonte Sanchez, who was buried under thousands of pounds of debris, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office said in a Nov. 21 statement.

“Despite a construction-related conviction for attempted bribery a few years earlier, the construction company operator allegedly continued to play fast and loose with safety protocols, taking shortcuts to increase profit margins – this time with deadly consequences,” Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said in the statement. “We allege that the dangerous conditions at the site – which had been reported by laborers and neighbors – were ignored by these defendants and directly led to the death of Luis Almonte Sanchez, a 47-year-old family man. As new construction continues to proliferate in Brooklyn, it is incumbent upon builders to put safety first. As District Attorney, I am committed to protecting the safety of all workers.”

“This indictment demonstrates the tragic results that we have seen far too often when individuals who purport to be construction professionals ignore safety problems and warnings. These defendants discounted the city’s construction code, making up the rules as they went along, creating the perfect conditions for a disaster that ultimately cost a worker his life, according to the charges.”

The District Attorney identified the defendants as Jiaxi “Jimmy” Liu, 46, of Staten Island; Wilson Garcia Jr., 45, of Staten Island; Paul Bailey, 56, of Pelham, New York; Jia Rong “Tommy” Liu, 49, of Brooklyn; Siu Wah Maria Cheung-Mui, 31, of Brooklyn; Cindy Chai, 42, of Staten Island; Bailey’s Engineering, of Manhattan; WSC Group LLC, of Brooklyn; and WS Construction Inc., of Brooklyn.

Jiaxi Liu, Garcia, Bailey, WSC Group LLC, and Bailey’s Engineering PC are charged with second-degree manslaughter; Jiaxi Liu, WSC Group LLC, Garcia, Bailey, Bailey’s Engineering PC and Cheung-Miu are charged with criminally negligent homicide.

Jiaxi and Jia Rong Liu, WSC Group, Garcia, Bailey, Bailey’s Engineering and Cheung-Mui are charged with second-degree reckless endangerment. Jiaxi Liu, Garcia and WSC Group are charged with fourth-degree criminal mischief. Jiaxi and Jia Rong Liu and Cheung-Mui are charged with first-degree offering a false instrument for filing.

The defendants are also variously charged with third-degree insurance fraud; fraudulent practices, workers’ compensation law, Section 114 (3) and Section 96; third-degree grand larceny; criminal tax fraud in the third-, fourth- and fifth-degree; and second- and third-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument.

The District Attorney said that, according to the indictment, between April and September 2018, construction workers employed by WSC Group Inc., performed demolition, excavation and foundation work at a construction site at 714 39th St. in Sunset Park. The construction involved removing a one-story industrial building and replacing it with a four-story manufacturing and community facility, including a new cellar level that would serve as an underground garage approximately nine feet below the first-floor level.

It is alleged that, despite repeated warnings of dangerous conditions at the site from workers and adjacent property owners, Jiaxi “Jimmy” Liu refused to stop work at the site.

On Sept. 12, 2018, at approximately 2 p.m., a portion of a support of excavation system (SOE) and an existing masonry wall – adjacent to residential apartment buildings – collapsed, trapping one of the construction workers who was performing foundation work in the immediate vicinity. Sanchez, 47, an employee of WSC Group, was struck by one of the underpinning pin sections, which weighed between 15,000 and 45,000 pounds and was buried under the collapsing debris. First responders couldn’t recover Sanchez’s body until the following day due to unstable conditions at the site, which were worsened by significant rain.

The District Attorney said that, according to the indictment, Jimmy Liu ran WSC Group, the company hired to perform the excavation work and it was his responsibility to give instructions to his foreperson and workers; His brother, Tommy Liu owned WSC Group;

Wilson Garcia was the foreperson at the site; Paul Bailey was an engineer, acting as the Special Inspector at the site, and whose responsibility was to oversee the work and ensure that all building and administrative codes were complied with and that the construction site was safe for workers; Garcia served as the foreperson and “competent person,” designated to identify hazards and take immediate action to correct the hazards on site; Cheung-Mui was licensed as a construction superintendent by the DOB and was required to be on site to maintain a safe job site, maintain compliance with approved construction documents and perform daily site visits; Cindy Chai was the bookkeeper at WSC Group LLC and is only charged in connection with financial crimes alleged in the indictment.

The indictment alleges that the defendants were obligated by law to ensure that the construction site was in compliance with regulations promulgated by the DOB and Occupational Safety and Health Administration to ensure the safety of the work site, but, in fact, the site was not in compliance and, furthermore, the defendants failed to follow the design plans submitted and approved by the DOB. They allegedly solicited new plans, which were not submitted to DOB, but ultimately didn’t follow any plans, leading to hazardous conditions at the site. Among the issues: the excavation was too deep, the underpinning system wasn’t installed properly and safe bracing procedures were not followed.

Furthermore, it is alleged that in the days prior to Sept. 12, 2018, Jimmy Liu and Garcia were informed by several of their workers of a number of potentially dangerous conditions, including that the rear wall was moving forward and that it had to be further braced with another beam across the lower portion of the wall in order to stop the wall’s movement.

Also, it is alleged, Jimmy Liu and Garcia were notified by a resident who lived immediately adjacent to the rear wall that her patio and garage had caved in. It is alleged that, despite those warnings, Jimmy Liu and Garcia refused to direct the workers to install additional bracing and never halted work at the site in order to assess or remedy the conditions. Nor did they notify DOB about the conditions.

Instead, it is alleged, they ordered workers to continue working on the underpinning at the rear of the site and in the days immediately preceding the collapse allowed a trucking company to continue to remove truckloads of dirt during a heavy rain storm, further destabilizing the site and causing the fatal collapse.

Additionally, it is alleged, some of the same individuals and companies were involved in another construction project located at 1759 Bay Ridge Pkwy. in 2017-2018, that was subject to numerous safety complaints that led to a DOB inspection, which uncovered numerous violations, and resulted in a stop work order. It is alleged that work continued at the site despite the order.

Finally, it is alleged, that WSC defrauded the New York State Insurance Fund of nearly $47,000 by making false statements about their employees, and that it also committed tax fraud by failing to file taxes between 2015 and 2018 and owes more than $28,000 for 2015 and 2016.

Following the 2018 fatal construction incident at 714 39th St., DOB inspection teams conducted enforcement sweeps citywide of every construction site associated with the defendants and issued additional enforcement actions for site safety conditions where appropriate. In addition, DOB is taking additional administrative actions against any of the defendants that have licenses, registrations, or privileges with the Department..

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