It was a long time in coming, but the filing of criminal charges against a construction foreman allegedly responsible for the deaths of two Nacimiento pipeline workers was an appropriate move, and we commend the District Attorney’s Office for its diligent pursuit of the case.
We can only hope that the seriousness of the charges — which include two felony counts of involuntary manslaughter — will send a strong message that will help prevent future tragedies.
A brief recap: The drowning deaths of Jacob Gaines, 24, of Bakersfield and Manuel Villagomez, 38, of Elk Grove occurred Oct. 2, 2008, at the intersection of Niblick and South River Road. The two men were working inside the 30-inch Nacimiento pipeline when a piece of excavating equipment struck a small, 8-inch waterline. The line ruptured and water surged inside the pipe, trapping the men inside.
According to a state investigation, the deaths were entirely preventable. A report from the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration said the foreman overseeing the digging was told that a water line was in the area, but no precautions were taken to ensure the line was properly marked before the excavation proceeded.
The foreman, 42-year-old Henry Duggins of Sacramento, could face six years, four months in prison if convicted of all charges.
While no criminal charges were filed against the man’s employer — Teichert Construction — the county did file a civil case that resulted in a $3 million settlement.
Nearly $2 million of that will go to the District Attorney’s Office, for investigation, outreach and prosecution on worker safety, environmental and other consumer-related cases.
Another $500,000 will go to the county treasury, and $400,000 will be used to purchase an automated case management system that will link the District Attorney’s Office to other criminal justice agencies.
Teichert also has agreed to implement these safety measures:
On projects that involve trench excavations on existing streets, employees will not work inside a pipeline while equipment is excavating inside the same trench. The provision is meant to protect employees working around underground utilities.
When installing large pipelines, Teichert will be required to have an employee experienced in workplace safety on site. That safety expert will be in addition to the foreman.
All crew members installing underground pipes will have the authority to stop work if they become aware of a safety hazard.
Teichert will be required to update its training materials to include these new policies, and to provide training to all employees who work on underground construction.
Any violation of the new requirements will be punishable by a fine of $50,000. If a violation results in serious bodily injury, the fine will be as much as $500,000.
It’s unfortunate that it took two deaths to force a company to take these common-sense measures.
That said, we’re glad to see that the District Attorney’s Office found a way to not only punish Teichert, but to also put measures in place to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.