After String of Deaths, Hammer of Justice Comes Down on Construction Firms

Kenneth Thompson (Photo: Melody Melamed for Commercial Observer).
Kenneth Thompson (Photo: Melody Melamed for Commercial Observer).


Last week, Salvatore Schirripa and his company Brooklyn-based construction company J&M Metro General Contracting Corp. were indicted for not complying with safety regulations that led to the death of a 50-year-old construction worker in April 2015, according to a press release from the Brooklyn district attorney’s office.

Schirripa and his company were given safety warnings on four different occasions in September 2011, December 2011, April 2013 and August 2014, ordering them to provide fall protection for their workers, District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said.

Vidal Sanchez-Ramon, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, worked for Schirripa on his Brighton Beach, Brooklyn site at 360 Neptune Avenue. The company was building a six-story residential and commercial building with a planned community center for VDA Construction Corp., according to court documents. Ramon was pouring concrete on the sixth floor and fell to his death allegedly because Schirripa failed to install safety railings and had not provided workers with protective gear.

Ramon was one of 15 New York City construction workers who died last year due to site-related “catastrophes,” according to the United States Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s yearly reports on accidental fatalities. In a boom time of building, national regulations are tightening with more construction-related accidents and more construction companies getting in legal hot water for negligence.

Schirripa was indicted on a myriad of charges including second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. He pleaded “not guilty” and could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted for manslaughter. He is due back in court on Sept. 7 after being released on $35,000 bail. Schirripa did not immediately return a request for comment, and nor did his attorney, Frederick Sosinsky.

Meanwhile, Susan Karten and Craig Snyder of Susan M. Karten & Associates, are representing administrator Brett Schatz on behalf of Ramon’s family in the civil suit against Schirripa, his company and VDA Construction Corp., since the family is based in Mexico. Attorney Gregory Bruno, who represented VDA Construction Corp., did not respond to a request for comment by publication time.

“The family is very grateful to the district attorney because too many immigrants at construction sites are killed due to negligence,” Karten told Commercial Observer. “This was the death of a hardworking man who used to earn for his family.”

Francisco Vidal Sanchez, Ramon’s son, did not immediately return a request for comment.

“These are people, not numbers,” Robert Kulick, OSHA’s New York regional administrator, said in the press release from the DA’s office about the case against Schirripa and his company. “This indictment sends a strong message to those employers who neglect their legal responsibility to provide their employees with safe workplaces and working conditions.”

While Ramon’s case is still pending, another company, Harco Construction, was found guilty last Friday of second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide for the death of 22-year-old Carlos Moncayo.

Moncayo, a Queens-based who came here from Ecuador, died on April 6, 2015, a few days after Ramon’s death. He was crushed in an excavation pit at a Ninth Avenue site close to the High Line in the Meatpacking District.

Gary LaBarbera, the president of Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, called this verdict a “landmark day” for the construction industry and workers’ rights.

“The guilty verdict handed down against Harco Construction for the death of Carlos Moncayo sends a clear message that irresponsible contractors and foremen will be held accountable for a worker’s death,” he said in a prepared statement.

This verdict came on the same day as the release of Crane Safety Technical Working Group’s new safety recommendations. The group was established by Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City Department of Buildings Commissioner Rick Chandler after a crane collapsed in Tribeca this February that killed a passerby and injured three other people.

The new guidelines suggest phasing out older cranes and setting wind requirements at 30 miles per hour. It also called for more industry accountability, which includes having an on-site director who will be responsible for complying with city regulations and monitoring wind conditions.

“We cannot ignore safety just so we can keep up with the construction boom taking place in the city. I’m proud of the council’s housing and buildings committee’s work with the administration to address this,” said Councilman Jumaane Williams, who is on that committee in a press release about crane safety.

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