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Court rules construction company owner can face manslaughter charge in worker death

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Olympia, WA — The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office may continue to seek a manslaughter conviction against a construction company owner whose employee died in a trench collapse, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled Feb. 4.

Prosecutors in Seattle have charged Phillip Numrich, owner of now-shuttered Alki Construction LLC, with second-degree manslaughter for the 2016 death of 36-year-old Harold Felton. Numrich appealed to the state’s Supreme Court, which decided in July 2019 to review the case.

A court date for Numrich in King County is forthcoming.

Felton was attempting to help replace a sewer line at a home in West Seattle when the 7-foot trench he was working in collapsed, burying him in about 6,000 pounds of mud and sand.

A Washington State Department of Labor & Industries investigation found that shoring was installed on only one side of the trench instead of all four. Also, no ladder was available for workers to use to enter or exit the trench, according to an agency press release.

 

Washington L&I states that Numrich told investigators he knew workers were digging in rain-saturated type C soil, but it was the employees’ responsibility to understand the hazards and determine when shore boards were needed.

“He had a responsibility to protect his employees,” Washington L&I Director Joel Sacks said in the release. “Numrich knew the safety rules and chose to ignore them.

“The court’s decision sends a message to business owners that they can be held criminally accountable and face felony charges if they knowingly fail to protect their workers.”

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