ORIGINAL FRIDAY NIGHT REPORT: Six years after 36-year-old Harold Felton died in a trench collapse at a West Seattle worksite, his then-employer was sentenced today to 45 days in jail. We last reported on the case in 2018, when Phillip Numrich, owner of Burien-headquartered Alki Construction LLC, became what the state described at the time as ““the first … Washington employer (who) has faced felony charges for a workplace fatality.” He was charged with manslaughter. Earlier this year, in a plea agreement, Numrich pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of attempted reckless endangerment, a gross misdemeanor. The charge carried a maximum sentence of three months in jail; prosecutors agreed to recommend one month. The court file for this afternoon’s hearing includes this letter from state Labor and Industries supporting jail time, which L&I called unprecedented, detailing what its investigation found:
After several days of heavy rainfall, (Numrich) allowed Mr. Felton to enter an eight- to ten-foot deep trench to work on the sewer replacement. It had been raining heavily, but Mr. Numrich had only brought enough shoring (safety equipment) to protect two of the four sides of the trench from a cave-in. It’s common knowledge that soil becomes less stable following heavy rains. While Mr. Felton was working inside the trench, the sides collapsed, burying him under a massive amount of dirt and killing him. The requirements to protect an excavation such as this one have been in place since the 1970s, and are well known to everyone in the industry.
The defense filed a document quoting Mr. Felton’s co-worker at the site as suggesting insufficient shoring was not at fault, but rather “tunneling” done by the victim. Today’s hour-plus-long hearing also incorporated sentencing for a charge to which Numrich’s company agreed to plead guilty, “violation of labor-safety regulation with death resulting.” King County Superior Court Judge Michael Diaz ordered the 45-day sentence for Numrich on the attempted-reckless-endangerment charge; the sentencing minutes don’t show whether a fine was ordered for the company charge, but the plea bargain included a state recommendation that he be fined $100,000. (We’ll follow up Monday for additional details.)
ADDED MONDAY: Court documents that weren’t available until today show that the judge ordered a $25,000 fine.