Man Sentenced to Jail for Disabling Tractor Safety Device, Resulting in Worker's Death

A vineyard employee's death could have been prevented had the tractor's kill switch not been removed.

A California man on trial for removing a safety device on a tractor resulting in the death of a vineyard worker has been sentenced to 30 days in jail and 80 hours of community service.

James Poole, 61, the manager of Vino Farms in Santa Rosa, ordered the "kill switch" to be removed from a tractor used at the vineyard. The switch shuts the machine off when the driver leaves the seat. When an employee's clothing was caught while he was trying to get out of the tractor, he was pinned underneath the vehicle overnight, resulting in injuries from which he died days later. The accident could have been prevented had the switch not been removed from the tractor.

In addition to the jail time Poole will serve, his plea bargain in the case means the vineyard faces fines and restitution fees to the victim's family reaching $200,000. Poole pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor violation of a labor code prohibiting the removal of safety devices.

"All workers have the right to expect that they will come home at the end of the work day and that their employers will keep in place all manufacturers' safety devices on equipment used for work," District Attorney Ravitch said. "Companies and supervisors who disable safety devices will be held accountable for the sake of workers who depend on them."

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