CONTRACTOR CHARGED WITH MANSLAUGHTER
Brooklyn, June 11, 2008 – Kings County District Attorney Charles J. Hynes, New York City Department of Investigation Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn, and New York City Department of Buildings Acting Commissioner Robert LiMandri today announced the indictment of William Lattarulo for his role in a construction collapse that killed a 30-year-old laborer, Lauro Ortega.
Lattarulo is charged with Manslaughter in the Second Degree, Criminally Negligent Homicide, Two Counts of Reckless Endangerment in the First Degree and Two counts of Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree.
“If not for this defendant’s callous selfishness and complete disregard for the safety of his workers, Lauro Ortega would be alive today,” said District Attorney Hynes. “In his hasty attempt to cut corners and reduce his own expenses, William Lattarulo cost another man his life. I would like to thank Commissioner Gill Hearn and Commissioner LiMandri for their help in this case.”
“Today’s indictment serves as a warning that there are serious consequences for cutting corners by ignoring safety regulations,” said Acting Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri. “We do not tolerate builders who prioritize expedient development over safe construction practices, and we will continue to hold them accountable for threatening New Yorkers’ safety.”
DOI Commissioner Gill Hearn said, “DOI’s investigation shows that by ignoring the building code William Lattarulo undermined the foundation of his building, caused the death of his worker and put other lives at risk. The harm he is charged with causing cannot be undone, but the indictment announced today demonstrates that anyone who acts so recklessly will be held accountable. I want to thank District Attorney Hynes for pursuing this important prosecution.”
On March 12, 2008, Lattarulo was having laundromat built on a vacant lot, at 791-793 Glenmore Ave., in East New York, which he owned. The adjacent building, which Lattarulo also owned, had a foundation that extended several feet below ground, but the laundromat’s basement would go down much deeper than the existing residential building next door.
The indictment charges that, despite repeated warnings from several people, including a consultant he was required to hire to inspect the work, Lattarulo failed to properly support the neighboring foundation, as the new building’s foundation was being dug. As a result of that failure, the indictment charges, Ortega, an undocumented immigrant earning $100 a day, was crushed when the building’s foundation buckled under its own, improperly supported weight and pressure from the earth beneath it.
The charges against Lattarulo stem from his lack of experience in construction, his failure to properly establish “underpinning”, his failure to hire someone with the proper expertise and experience in constructing underpinning, and his failure to build braces to support the underpins below the foundation wall of the adjacent building. Underpinning involves digging narrow trenches beneath a foundation – one at a time – building support walls, or “underpins”, from the bottoms of the trenches to the base of the foundation, and backfilling the trenches. It is essential that underpinnings be braced, because they are prone to buckling, under the weight of the building above them and pressure from the earth beneath the building.
An indictment is an accusatory instrument and not proof of a defendant’s guilt.
DOI investigators working on the case included DOI’s Inspector General for the Department of Buildings Michael Carroll and members of his staff, including Investigators Robert Miller, Nicholas Novellino, Sadie Lopez, Assistant Chief Investigator James McElligott, and Deputy Chief Investigator Crissy DeAngelo, under the direction of DOI Associate Commissioner John B. Kantor.
The case is being prosecuted by Rackets Division Deputy Bureau Chief Joseph DiBenedetto. Rackets Division Bureau Chief Gavin Miles, Counsel to the Rackets Division Monique Ferrell, and Deputy District Attorney Joseph Petrosino also worked on the case. Michael Vecchione is Chief of the Rackets Division.
And from todays New York Times additional reporting.
A Brooklyn contractor is being charged with manslaughter today in connection with an accident on a construction site in March that killed a worker who was digging a foundation, according to the Brooklyn district attorney’s office.
The contractor, William Lattarulo, is accused in the indictment of ignoring clear safety hazards and forcing his employees to endanger themselves so he could keep his construction moving forward. The indictment marks an unusual step for prosecutors, who rarely press charges against contractors. But it comes amid a spate of construction accidents that have killed or injured dozens of people and cast the city’s contractors and buildings inspectors in an unforgiving light.
The accident occurred on the morning of March 12 when a worker, Louro Ortega, was digging the foundation for a commercial building at 791 Glenmore Avenue in East New York. According to the authorities, Mr. Lattarulo, who owns several adjacent houses on the lot, was warned by a consultant and a more experienced contractor at the site that the new foundation was lower than the foundation beside it and needed underpins to keep it stable.
Instead of heeding those warnings, the authorities said, Mr. Lattarulo ordered Mr. Ortega to keep digging. Moments later, part of a wall from a residential building next door collapsed and sent rubble spilling onto Mr. Ortega, killing him and injuring another worker on the site.
The contractor was warned by others on the site that the wall wouldn’t hold, said a city official involved in the investigation who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the matter.
Patricia J. Lancaster, the former buildings commissioner, visited the site later that day and said there was “evidence of shoddy work conditions” and that the work should not have been going on.
Three people who were inside the residential building, 795 Glenmore Avenue, escaped unharmed but were left homeless and had to be provided shelter by the Red Cross. The rest of the building was later pulled down.
"...investigation into whether an engineer who had been barred from construction work was illegally working at the site."
Mr. Lattarulo was immediately issued at least eight violations and the project was shut down. He is scheduled to be arraigned this afternoon on a manslaughter charge, the authorities said. They also said that they were continuing an investigation into whether an engineer who had been barred from construction work was illegally working at the site.
New York has seen a number of recent construction accidents, including a series of crane accidents this year that have killed nine people and injured 28. In the aftermath of one crane disaster in March that killed seven people, Ms. Lancaster resigned from her post as buildings commissioner and the agency came under intense scrutiny. Two months later, another crane collapsed on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, killing two people and badly damaging a luxury apartment building.
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