Contractor convicted in Sunset Park construction death
WSC Group operator Jiaxi Liu faces up to 16 years in rare homicide penalty
A contractor has been convicted in the September 2018 death of a worker at a Sunset Park job site.
WSC Group’s Jiaxi Liu faces a maximum of 16 years in prison after he was convicted of criminally negligent homicide in the death of Luis Sánchez Almonte, The City reported. The outlet noted the decision marks a rare criminal penalty against a contractor as cases usually proceed as civil lawsuits through which firms often skirt prosecution.
Sánchez Almonte was killed five years ago when 15,000 pounds of debris fell on him. The site foreperson, Wilson Garcia, was convicted of criminal mischief in the fourth degree, punishable by a maximum of one year in jail. Both Garcia and WSC operator Liu are scheduled to be sentenced on April 26.
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez called the death “a preventable tragedy.” During hearings for the bench trial, the prosecution offered evidence that the two men didn’t respond to safety concerns at the job site, including fears the wall that would crush Sánchez Almonte was at risk of collapsing.
It took authorities 28 hours to extract the laboror’s remains at the job site at 714 39th Street in September 2018.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration previously issued two citations against WSC after it found the firm ignored a cave-in warning at the site. WSC was fined a mere $63,647, despite OSHA’s determination that WSC committed a “willful” violation of federal safety construction regulations.
In November 2019, Gonzalez indicted the two men on 28 counts, including manslaughter — site engineer Paul Bailey was also indicted. In December 2021, Bailey pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide and misdemeanor reckless endangerment in the second degree, agreeing to surrender his license and stop practicing.
There were also convictions and guilty pleas from several officials regarding financial crimes.
Gov. Kathy Hochul recently signed Carlos’ Law, inspired by the death of a 22-year-old construction worker in 2015. Construction companies found criminally responsible for the death or injury of a worker will face steeper fines than before, up to $500,000 for convictions.
— Holden Walter-Warner