The owner of a New York City construction company has been charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in the death of an employee.
News sources say Michael Weiss is accused of ignoring repeated requests for material to use in shoring up a retaining wall adjacent to a site where his employees were conducting excavation. Fernando Vanegaz, an 18-year-old immigrant from Ecuador, died when the wall collapsed, sending masonry blocks and debris onto Vanegaz and two other workers, who were injured.
Mr. Vanegaz had been in the United States for less than a year.
Weiss, who was not a licensed builder, reportedly hired seven workers with little training conduct the demolition in a manner inconsistent with plans he had filed with the Buildings Department, digging below the foundation of the wall and further destabilizing it. Prosecutors allege that Weiss ignored a series of complaints from workers about the wall.
Weiss is also being accused of reckless endangerment, assault, grand larceny, tax fraud and falsifying business records. He could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted of the charges.
Mr. Weiss pleaded not guilty to all the charges and was released on bail.
New York City’s robust housing market has seen a corresponding rise in construction-related deaths – both of workers and of people passing by dangerous sites. At least 33 construction workers have been killed since January 2015. Safety advocates blame developers who pressure contractors to take safety shortcuts in order to erect buildings quickly.
The New York City Council recently passed a bill requiring the city to track deaths and injuries at construction sites.