A civil engineer pleaded guilty Tuesday in connection with the on-the-job death of a construction worker fatally buried under rubble after a retaining wall collapsed at a storm-swept Brooklyn construction site in 2018.
But inspecting engineer Paul Bailey likely will not see any prison time in the death of Luis Sánchez Almonte, after Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez agreed to drop a manslaughter charge in the plea deal. Bailey pleaded to criminally negligent homicide, a felony, and misdemeanor reckless endangerment in the second degree.
If Bailey cooperates with prosecutors in related cases, he will be sentenced to conditional discharge with the prospect of community service, while felony charges will be dismissed. In addition, Bailey will surrender his license and stated in court that he will no longer practice.
A Brooklyn grand jury indicted Bailey, construction company operator Jiaxi “Jimmy” Liu and foreperson Wilson García two years ago, after THE CITY revealed Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations at the Sunset Park construction site.
One of the OSHA inspection reports showed a contractor, Liu-affiliated company WSC Group LLC, was aware of a threatening collapse amid a pounding rainstorm but failed to protect workers.
The case against Liu and García continues and they are due in court for pre-trial hearings on Dec. 20 The DA’s office worked with the city Department of Investigation, Department of Buildings and OSHA in probing the killing.
Prosecutors said they found that Bailey and Liu refused to stop work after repeated warnings of dangerous conditions at the site from workers and adjacent property owners. The case marked a rare criminal indictment in a fatality tied to the city’s deadliest industry, according to worker safety advocates.
Bailey, Liu and García’s attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sánchez Almonte, a 47-year-old Dominican immigrant, “never had a chance under these conditions,” Gonzalez said at a November 2019 news conference announcing the indictments.
It took rescue workers more than 28 hours to extract the remains of Sánchez Almonte as the remnants of Hurricane Florence poured over Brooklyn on Sept. 12, 2018.
Three months earlier, OSHA had issued a citation against the general contractor on the site, WSC Group, for leaving an electrical panel exposed, prompting a $3,696 fine.
The following year, the agency issued fines totalling $63,647 in connection to Sánchez Almonte’s death. One was for a “willful” violation of federal construction safety regulations, the most serious category.
The 2019 grand jury indictment found that WSC Group LLC, including Liu, “ignored clear warnings from surrounding property owners” that the retaining wall that crushed Sánchez Almonte was unstable — and that they “intentionally and recklessly still refused” to address the danger.
Prosecutors alleged Liu and García were both alerted by a neighbor that her garage and patio had caved in, yet did not halt work or order bracing to shore up the wall.
Sánchez Almonte’s nephew, Andy Monsanto, told THE CITY in 2019 that he was still reeling from his uncle’s untimely death: “Nobody had it out for him. He was just working.”
Charlene Obernauer, executive director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, a nonprofit work-safety group, said that criminal prosecutions of contractors for worker deaths are unusual because it is often all-but impossible to prove that an on-site supervisor knew about unsafe conditions before a fatality.
She added Liu’s record of ignoring a safety inspector’s warning prior to a collapse is “rare” — and could lead to a conviction.
“In general, we want to see these kinds of cases come up, and we want to see the employers or the site supervisors to be prosecuted if it’s found that there was a link between their decisions and the worker’s death,” she added.
“In this case, they obviously were able to prove a pretty strong link.”