Over the Hill

On the Nacimiento pipeline construction accident

Special to The TribuneApril 11, 2013 

Henry Duggins was the foreman of a Teichert Construction crew that was working on the Nacimiemto Water Project pipeline when Jacob Gaines, 24, of Bakersfield, and Manuel Villagomez, 38, of Elk Grove, were killed.

DAVID MIDDLECAMP — dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the status of a Paso Robles monument to three workers killed during the construction of the Nacimiento Lake pipeline project. The monument faces the River Walk bike trail a short distance south of the 13th Street Bridge. The column incorrectly said it was not yet installed.

Two workers were killed Oct. 2, 2008, in Paso Robles during the Nacimiento Lake water pipeline construction. They died at Niblick and South River roads inside the 30-inch-diameter pipe when it was accidentally flooded. Last Friday, a man was sentenced in this case. His sentence seems overly lenient.

He is Henry Duggins of Sacramento, who was the foreman of the crew the workers were on. In February he pleaded no contest to a felony labor-law violation. He was sentenced to three years of probation and 1,000 hours of community service.

State investigators said Duggins had been warned that a city water main ran through the area. But he ordered the excavator operator to keep digging, and in a few minutes the excavator hit the water main. Water quickly flooded the 10-foot-deep trench and the pipe.

The two men had been working in the pipe. One body was found 35 feet inside the pipe. The other was 70 feet in.

Duggins’ sentence doesn’t seem to match the serious consequences of his recklessness. And how much actual probation supervision will he get if probation officers are as overloaded as we hear? Also, a more severe sentence might have reinforced other construction foremen’s respect for safety laws.

I also wonder if Duggins fully accepts responsibility for this tragedy. The April 6 Tribune reported that he said, “I’m extremely sorry for what happened. It’s been very tough for everybody involved.”

I wish he’d just said, “I made a terrible mistake; I’m so sorry.”

The two men who were killed were Jacob Gaines, 24, of Bakersfield, and Manuel Villagomez, 38, of Elk Grove, whose family refers to him as Manuelo Arriaga.

Some of Gaines’ relatives attended the sentencing. His mother, Cindy Conte, said she wonders what her son thought as water surged into the pipe.

Through the years both victims’ families have placed flowers and crosses beside the fatal intersection. Gaines’ family brought a new metal cross to set up. I saw it there Tuesday morning. It was white, maybe three feet tall, with black lettering saying “Jake L. Gaines, 1984 2008.” But that afternoon it was gone. I wonder if vandals took it or a zealous city official.

A permanent plaque has been paid for by Teichert Construction, the pipeline contractor. The plaque also honors Timothy Nelson, 29, of Ojai, who was killed Aug. 20, 2009, by a dump truck on the Camp Roberts stretch of the pipeline project.

The plaque faces the River Walk bike trail a short distance south of the 13th Street Bridge.

Phil Dirkx has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column is published weekly. Reach Dirkx at 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.

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