Sunset Park construction boss convicted after worker killed in wall collapse

Brooklyn wall collapse
First responders worked for over for over 24 hours to retrieve the victim’s body after the collapse.
Photo by Paul Martinka

The operator of a Sunset Park construction company that ignored site safety concerns was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter after a worker was crushed in a wall collapse.

A foreperson at the site was also convicted of criminal mischief in relation to the death of the WSC Group employee. 

Luis Almonte Sanchez, 47, was buried under thousands of pounds of debris while performing foundation work at a construction site on 39th Street in Sunset Park in September of 2018. 

“The death of Luis Almonte Sanchez was a preventable tragedy that would have been avoided if the operator of the construction site followed all safety protocols or heeded warnings about unsafe conditions,” Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said Thursday. 

“Today’s verdict should send a strong message that when contractors cut corners and put their workers’ safety at risk — they will face serious and criminal repercussions.”

WSC Group Inc, owned by Jiaxi “Jimmy” Liu, performed demolition, excavation and foundation work at the Sunset Park site between April and September 2018 — removing a one-story industrial building to make way for a four-story manufacturing and community facility, including a new cellar approximately nine feet below the first-floor level.

Prosecutors in the case said that Liu refused to stop ongoing work, despite warnings of dangerous conditions at the site from workers and adjacent property owners. 

According to the District Attorney, the evidence showed that it was Liu’s responsibility to give instructions to the foreperson and workers that could have prevented Sanchez’s death. 

The construction site at 39th Street in Sunset Park following the wall collapse that killed Luis Almonte Sanchez.NYC DOI

Wilson Garcia Jr. served as the foreperson designated to identify hazards and take immediate action to correct the hazards on site. 

Gonzaelz’s office said that both defendants were obligated by law to ensure that the construction site was in compliance with regulations.

Yet, evidence presented by prosecutors found the site was not in compliance, and that both defendants failed to follow the design plans submitted and approved by the Department of Buildings.

“They solicited new plans, which were not submitted to DOB, but ultimately didn’t follow any plans, leading to hazardous conditions at the site. Among the issues: the underpinning system wasn’t installed properly; and safe bracing procedures were not followed,” prosecutors said.

It was also found that in the days prior to the incident, Liu was told of a number of potentially dangerous conditions, including that the rear wall was moving forward and that some support was needed in order to stop the wall’s movement. 

A resident who lived immediately adjacent to the rear wall also notified Liu that her patio and garage had caved in.

The Sunset Park construction site in May 2018

The Sunset Park construction site in May 2018Google Street View

Despite the warnings, Liu refused to direct the workers to install additional bracing, never halted work at the site in order to assess or remedy the conditions, and did not notify DOB about the conditions.

Prosecutors also found that in the days preceding the collapse, Liu had allowed a trucking company to continue to remove truckloads of dirt during a heavy rainstorm, further destabilizing the site.

On the afternoon of September 12, a portion of the shoring and an existing masonry wall collapsed, trapping Luis Almonte Sanchez who was performing foundation work in the immediate vicinity.

According to prosecutors, Sanchez was struck by one of the underpinning pin sections, which weighed well more than 15,000 pounds and was buried under the collapsing debris.

His body was not recovered until the following day due to unstable conditions at the site, which were worsened by significant rain.

Liu was convicted Thursday by Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun of criminally negligent homicide, first-degree offering a false instrument for filing, fraudulent practices in violation of worker’s compensation laws, and fourth-degree city criminal tax fraud. He is facing a maximum sentence of eight to 16 years in prison.

Garcia was convicted of fourth-degree criminal mischief and is facing up to one year behind bars. Both men are due to appear before the courts on April 26 for sentencing.

“The death of Luis Almonte was tragic and preventable. This incident is a painful reminder that cutting corners on a construction site and ignoring safety regulations can have dire consequences,” New York City Department of Buildings Acting Commissioner Kazimir Vilenchik said in reaction to the convictions.

“Pursuing criminal charges in response to construction-related fatalities sends an important message to the entire industry – endangering the lives of workers and the public will not be tolerated. I commend the Brooklyn DA’s Office for their efforts in this important case.”

Two additional defendants were indicted on lesser related charges, with both previously entering guilty pleas: Jia Rong “Tommy” Liu, 52, of Brooklyn, to petit larceny, and Cindy Chai, 45, of Staten Island, to tax fraud.

For more coverage of Sunset Park, head to BrooklynPaper.com.