FOLLOWUP: Criminal charges filed in West Seattle trench-collapse death

(January 2016 WSB photo)

Almost two years after a deadly trench collapse at a West Seattle worksite, the owner of the company that employed the victim has been charged with criminal manslaughter. The announcement late today from the state Department of Labor and Industries says this is “the first time a Washington employer has faced felony charges for a workplace fatality.” 36-year-old Harold Felton was killed January 26, 2016, when the dirt walls of a trench collapsed during side-sewer work at a house in the 3000 block of 36th SW. Seven months later, the state cited Alki Construction LLC for seven violations, as reported here. And now, the company’s owner, 40-year-old Phillip Numrich, has been charged with second-degree manslaughter. The announcement quotes L&I director Joel Sacks as saying, “There are times when a monetary penalty isn’t enough. 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.” We’ve looked up the court documents, which were not included in the L&I news release; Numrich has been charged with two counts, second-degree manslaughter and “violation of labor safety regulation with death resulting.” The documents note that he and the victim not only had an employer-employee relationship, they were longtime friends. Mr. Felton was the first person killed in a trenching incident in our state in more than seven years.

24 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: Criminal charges filed in West Seattle trench-collapse death"

  • Alki Resident January 8, 2018 (9:30 pm)

    Judging by what I know about that sketchy owner, this is really great news.

    • Have some respect January 8, 2018 (11:14 pm)

      Not great news for his customers holding “lifetime of ownership guarantees” on his work, nor is it great for the dead guy. Think before you gloat, please.

      • Alki Resident January 9, 2018 (12:10 am)

        Maybe Phil should’ve had some respect for his employees by keeping them safe at all times.You know, do things legally.

        • Have some respect January 9, 2018 (8:28 am)

          One of the great things about West Seattle is that it’s in a country where the accused are innocent until proven guilty. You’re making an assumption that he had an influential hand in what happened before hearing word 1 about his involvement beyond what SPD is charging. I think Phil’s family and the blog’s readers deserve more maturity than you’ve been providing in these comments.

          For what it’s worth, Alki Sewer did a new sewer line for me. They did a decent job. The guys worked harder than anything I’d ever seen, and I distinctly remember them extending their day into darkness (in May) because they stopped to reinforce the walls of the 12-foot-deep hole they dug. These guys literally shoveled s**t for a 10-hour day. My experience with the company wasn’t the best I’ve had, but hardly deserving of the cold, crass, and awful comments made above. I sure hope Phil is innocent. I’m not his biggest fan, but the thought of his kids having to visit him in prison isn’t something I’d wish on anyone. Knowing what I know about him, he is probably already nearly suicidal because of the loss of his employee and friend.

          Please consider the golden rule in whatever religion or philosophy you follow before jumping to trump your neighbors in the middle of the night with your insensitive comments. Whether it’s restaurants, schools, traffic jams, petty crimes, or awful events like this, you and you alone seem to be the one carrying the torch and pitchfork for the negativity we’re all hoping to avoid when we come here to enjoy a good read.

          • KBear January 9, 2018 (9:15 am)

            “Presumption of innocence” is a legal concept that means someone can’t be legally punished for an alleged crime until they’re found guilty in court. It doesn’t mean they’re literally innocent (especially if they did indeed commit the crime), and it certainly doesn’t mean people aren’t entitled to form their own opinions on the matter.  It is also possible to be an otherwise outstanding father and mostly decent human being while still being criminally negligent. You don’t get to duck criminal charges just because you’re a mostly good person.

          • Alki Resident January 9, 2018 (9:21 am)

            I have my opinion and you have yours. You’ve only been his customer and nothing more so you have nothing to go on whatsoever. Yes they work hard, that type of work goes on for hours, that’s a given. My comments are not cold, and you don’t know anything about me to talk about my maturity level. You’re digging just to comment on here. I hope justice is served for the deceased employee. And please don’t single me out because I responded to this thread. I’m not the only one that knows about this case that feels a fine wasn’t enough. 

          • s January 9, 2018 (10:16 am)

            I agree that this is great news, not because I’m gloating but because the message must be sent that owners need to take basic precautions to safeguard their employees. I don’t think “lifetime of ownership guarantees” matter much in comparison to an employee’s life. And I think that justice and deterrence of future deaths is a good way to respect the deceased worker.

          • Alki Resident January 9, 2018 (11:03 am)

            S- So very well said . 

          • Whoa January 9, 2018 (11:13 am)

            @have some respect- you’re pretty harsh for someone whose primary concern is your sewer warranty..?

          • Question Authority January 9, 2018 (11:29 am)

            They reinforced the walls 12 feet deep because that’s the law, had they followed proper trenching and shoring rules on the job in question we would not be having this conversation.

          • WSB January 9, 2018 (11:50 am)

            Anyone interested in further details, the charging documents go into them extensively. I did not link them here because they contain names of people beyond the defendant and victim, and I don’t have the ability to redact, nor the time to transcribe. One point made in the extensive report by the L&I investigator was that the trench was dug 10 days before the collapse, and then work was put on hold “because of some worker absences and equipment failure. … Leaving a trench open for this long increases the risk of a collapse or cave-in.” The report also says it was determined that the soil type at the site was the “least stable” type and yet the victim was allowed to use a vibrating tool at one point, which, the state says, also increased the risk. Numrich was what rules call the “competent person” at the site in charge of safety and the charges, the state alleges, are the result of criminal negligence. – TR

      • Riiiight January 9, 2018 (12:48 am)

        Yes, havesomerespect- When we hear news like this, I think we all have to stop, gather our emotions, and ask ourselves- could this effect the warranty on my sunroom?

  • dsa January 8, 2018 (10:24 pm)

    What is the maximum penalty for criminal manslaughter?

  • T January 9, 2018 (12:07 am)

    Glad the company/owner are being held accountable.

  • Scott A January 9, 2018 (7:29 am)

    I didn’t research much but the linked story from previous coverage says the trench was 8 feet deep.  Ridiculous.  To anyone walking past or otherwise observing workers in a deep, unshored trench (greater than 4 feet) please consider calling Labor and Industries and ask an inspector to take a look. Sometimes earth is really solid rock and it’s not going to move but usually it better be shored.  L and I’s website says this: “NOTE: If you see a worker in immediate danger, contact L&I at 1-800-423-7233.” 
    The few times I’ve called the line it’s been a quick report, an inspector can be on site fairly soon and inspectors aren’t trying to fine contractors – just keep workers safe.  I’ve called when seeing significant fall hazards during roofing operations.

  • just wondering January 9, 2018 (9:33 am)

    I remember the victim had a new little one who would now be around 2 years old.  

    Still so sad.

  • steve January 9, 2018 (11:04 am)

    I always get numerous bids for plumbing work. I was not impressed with the above, arrogance aside,  (their bid was over 3x above who I choose), then hounded me afterwards.  I ended up going with a West Seattle family owned business (Starts with an “O”). They dug deep, and shored everything, and very safety conscious. When done, no trace they were there.   Impressive. Its tough, dangerous work,  be careful.

  • Scott A January 9, 2018 (3:14 pm)

    What court jurisdiction were charges filed in if I really wanted to look up more details on my own?

    • WSB January 9, 2018 (3:17 pm)

      King County Superior Court. Anyone can get an account via ECR-Online and then you have to prepay for pages. I *believe* you also can go downtown and look through files for free but have never done that – we’ve spent thousands on downloading docs over the years. You have to know what case number you’re looking for – ECR is not searchable – but that info is available via Washington court search. – TR

  • alkistu January 9, 2018 (5:53 pm)

    I knew Phil and Harold both because in better days they were both avid BMX riders and hung around the shop a lot. I know Phil is devastated by being responsible for the death of his best friend. It is a sad situation and I feel for Phil’s wife from Vietnam and children as well as his mother and brother. That being said Phil must own up to the fact he was operating a business without proper safety measures and the courts will determine his penalty, not us.

  • wscommuter January 9, 2018 (6:46 pm)

    Washington law (see WAC’s that WISHA enforces) are black and white about trench work – when shoring is required (not optional), at what depth, etc.  It is a common problem for design professionals who may be onsite when a contractor is excavating – seeing a problem and alerting appropriate authorities.  Likewise, Washington law is very clear that a contractor has a “non-delegable duty” to ensure worksite safety (see the Stute and Kamala cases from our state Supreme Court).  

    I don’t know anything about these facts other than what I read here, but the fact that a criminal charge has been filed is in and of itself extraordinary.  That step is extremely rare.  So yes – I’m all for presumption of innocence and fair judicial proceedings – but as a concerned citizen, it tells me something  that this particular case is going that far.  There must be some compelling evidence to support the prosecution.  

    • AJP January 10, 2018 (1:39 pm)

      Agreed. Proper trenching has a long history of regulation, stemming from what’s been learned from thousands of accidents. No shortcuts, period. I’m sorry for everyone involved, but there were clearly major problems with the site. Employers must be held accountable, because there are quite a few who won’t do it on their own. 

  • 22blades January 10, 2018 (5:30 pm)

    There’s absolutely no joy here. Illegal conduct left unsupervised for a LUNCH. He, and probably many others, have done it before but got away with it. An insidious lowering of the bar until it gets you. I would bet that it started years ago with a steady slipping of the bar. Lowering of the norm if you will.

    We know what happened with Alki Plumbing, but are our building inspectors properly staffed with adequate support? The current white hot atmosphere in construction should be cause for alarm. I hear the disdain for inspectors, unions and architects often by contractors and even the trades and it is disturbing. We evolved to this level of safety. Let’s not run back to the stone-age.

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