Michigan Attorney General Jennifer Granholm has filed criminal charges against two construction companies and their responsible supervisory personnel in connection with the work-site deaths of two Michigan construction workers.
Granholm has charged Lanzo Construction Co. of Roseville, Mich., and its Vice President, Angelo D''Alessandro, age 37 of Clinton Township, with one count each of involuntary manslaughter and criminal violation of a Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Act (MIOSHA) regulation causing an employee death.
Charges were filed in the Oakland County Circuit Court in Pontiac, Mich.
Granholm also announced, along with Monroe County Prosecutor Michael Weipert, that she charged J.A. Morrin Concrete Construction Co. of Toledo, Ohio, and company foreman James Morrin, Jr., age 45 of Temperance, Mich., with one count each of involuntary manslaughter and criminal violation of a MIOSHA safety regulation causing employee death.
Involuntary manslaughter is a felony punishable by 15 years in prison and/or a $7,500 fine.
Willfully violating MIOSHA causing the death of an employee is a felony punishable by one year in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.
Granholm said, "Because of the very nature of their business, construction companies and their managers have an unquestionable responsibility to keep the men and women on their work sites safe and protected. When construction companies drop the ball on safety, people die; it''s as simple, and as tragic, as that."
In the Morrin case, Granholm alleges that Robert Sorge, a 24-year-old truck driver, was electrocuted to death at a job site in Dundee, Mich., when he raised the bed of his gravel truck into a 7,600-volt electrical line located directly over the work site.
Morrin Construction and the job''s foreman, James Morrin Jr., had been notified on two separate occasions, two days before Sorge''s death and again on the day of his death, that the electrical lines were too low and that no workers should be allowed to work under them.
According to the complaint, on Aug. 9, 2000, a Detroit Edison employee advised Morrin that he was to cease work under the power lines and request a service call from the utility to have them moved.
On the same day, the Village of Dundee building inspector notified both Morrin and the company''s owner that no workers were to be allowed under the power lines and that the low-hanging lines should moved or taken down.
On Aug. 11, Detroit Edison officials again warned Morrin not to work under the power lines.
Later that same day, Sorge was killed when, Granholm alleges, Morrin directly instructed him to raise the bed of his gravel truck under the power lines.
Following an investigation, Morrin Construction was cited by MIOSHA for willful and serious violations of MIOSHA including failing to inspect a worksite to ensure that unsafe conditions were eliminated, failing to ensure that power lines in the construction area were de-energized or removed, allowing employees to work closer to power lines than allowed by law, and directing truck drivers to unload gravel directly underneath an energized power line.
"Robert Sorge had an entire lifetime of possibility snatched away from him in a single second of disregard for the law," said Granholm. "This is an unspeakable tragedy, but it shouldn''t be in vain -- construction companies should know: mistakes are one thing, willful disdain for the law is another."
In the Lanzo Construction case, Granholm alleges that Robert Whiteye was crushed to death on a rain-soaked excavation site in Southfield after the trench he was working in collapsed.
According to the complaint, Whiteye and another worker had been working in a 50-foot long trench laying concrete truss pipe.
Though safety regulations called for the use of an 8-foot wide trench box to protect the workers from a cave-in, Granholm alleges that, to save time, D''Alessandro directed the width of the trench box to be reduced to four feet, forcing Whiteye to work outside the protective box where he was directly exposed to the unprotected vertical sides of the excavation.
Further, Granholm alleges that the slope on the southwest end of the trench did not meet safety standards for the type of porous soil conditions the two men were working in.
According to the complaint, on May 24, 1999, Whiteye was constructing a manhole as directed by the company when the walls of the west side of the trench caved in, crushing and suffocating him to death.
A company foreman was on-site watching the work operation at the time; a field superintendent had been on-site earlier and knew of the poor soil conditions.
A MIOSHA investigation concluded that both D''Alessandro and the company knew of the substantial risk to employees of working outside a trench box and ignored several safety regulations regarding trench safety.
Following an investigation, Lanzo Construction was cited with several willful violations of MIOSHA including failure to train employees in hazard recognition, accident prevention, and emergency response.
A soil and construction safety expert retained to review the criminal case determined that the conduct on behalf of both D''Alessandro and Lanzo Construction "demonstrated extreme carelessness, recklessness, and plain indifference toward the safety and well-being of its employees."
"The 16 children and grandchildren that Robert Whiteye left behind are the best reasons in the world for making sure that safety is priority number one for every construction company in this state," said Granholm. "My heart goes out to both families in these cases, and it is my hope that these charges may help bring them some measure of closure."
by Virginia Foran