Verdict from 2016 Trench Collapse Convicts Company Owner of Manslaughter

Last week, a drain pipe company owner was convicted of manslaughter in relation to a 2016 trench collapse that killed two workers. The Boston Herald says this serves as a reminder of employer responsibility for worker safety.

In 2016, a drain pipe company lost the lives of two employees when a trench collapsed and water from a fire hydrant drowned them. Now, nearly three years later, the owner of the company is facing manslaughter charges.

Too many workers die each year from documented occupational injuries or disease sustained on the job. In 2018, 69 people were victims of workplace injuries and illnesses, according to the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH).

On Oct. 21, 2016, workers Kelvin “Chuck” Mattocks, 53, and Robert Higgins, 47, were working on a South End trench project when the underground materials supporting a hydrant collapsed. The materials in the hole were allegedly unshored, and when materials collapsed, the fire hydrant collapsed into the hole and the men were buried beneath flooding water within seconds.

A local construction worker Steven Smith Jr. tried hard to save the men, but his efforts were unavailing. He has since had tremendous emotional trauma and distress from the event.

“Steven has not been the same person since this incident,” said Jason Stone, Smith’s attorney in the lawsuit against the company. He added he’s looking for the company to “focus on Mr. Smith, and the families of the victims, and compensate them for the horrible losses they have endured.”

The company’s owner was recently found guilty of two counts of manslaughter and one of witness intimidation by Suffolk Superior Court Judge Mitchell Kaplan. Kevin Otto, 45, and his company, Atlantic Drain Service, reportedly broke a number of rules and regulations that ultimately caused these workers’ their lives.

The case against Otto argued that he and his company “knowingly and willfully” placed workers “in extreme danger by failing to utilize cave-in protection, and that Otto lied and produced false documentation to investigators,” according to the DA’s office.

The verdict goes to prove the important role employers play in keeping employees safe. It’s not enough to just meet regulations—safety needs to be enforced and emphasized always. Otherwise, tragedies like this one will result.

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