Contractor charged with manslaughter in worker's trench collapse death

File KOMO photo shows the scene of the trench collapse in January 2016.

SEATTLE - The owner of a Seattle-area contracting firm has been charged with second-degree manslaughter after one of his employees was killed in a sewer trench collapse in 2016.

Philip Numrich, owner of Alki Construction, was charged Friday in King County Superior Court, said spokesman Tim Church, spokesman for the state Department of Labor & Industries.

Church said it is the first time a Washington state employer has faced felony charges for a workplace fatality.

According to court records, Alki Construction employee Harold Felton was killed when the dirt walls of the trench he was working in collapsed and buried him on a sewer replacement job site in West Seattle on Jan. 26, 2016.

A state investigation into Felton's death found multiple workplace safety violations, including "willful" violations - the most severe. As a result, the state cited the company and fined Numrich $51,500. State officials say he appealed and settled, affirming the violations.

The King County Prosecutor's Office later filed the charges against Numrich after it found that the violations amounted to "criminal negligence," said Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Mindy Young.

"There are times when a monetary penalty isn't enough," said Labor & Industries Director Joel Sacks. "This company knew what the safety risks and requirements were, and ignored them. The felony charges show that employers can be held criminally accountable when the tragedy of a preventable workplace death or injury occurs."

The state says the trench where the worker died was 7 feet deep and just under 2 feet wide. And it says there was no system in place to prevent the sides from caving in.

Numrich has been ordered to appear for an arraignment on Jan. 18. Bail is set at $20,000.

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