SENTENCING: Jail time for employer of man killed in West Seattle trench collapse

(January 2016 WSB photo – SFD responders to rescue callout after trench collapse)

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.

30 Replies to "SENTENCING: Jail time for employer of man killed in West Seattle trench collapse"

  • davidm March 4, 2022 (11:28 pm)

    that seems about right… this guy did not intend to kill his employee and was no doubt horrified.  theres no evidence he ordered the man into the ditch against the mans safety concerns etc… basically he did not provide enough shoring and didn’t recognize his procurement lapse… 45 days and 100k is not nothing, this stuff happens now and again and mostly the employer walks away with higher insurance premiums at worst so this is a pretty real penalty and enough to wake up the side sewer guys

    • G. Host March 5, 2022 (1:05 am)

      “Seems about right”? What is wrong with you? A man lost his life because the owner was reckless and negligent. For the last 6 years the only time he showed any remorse was in front of a judge, other wise he was living it up, going to work at his NEW company he created to continue raking in the money with terrible business practices and multiple examples of ignoring basic safety protocols. He got to keep watching his kids grow up. He got to go on vacations. He got to go to parties and watch football games. Numrich has consistently shown reckless behavior and disregard for the safety of others, especially his “friends” his entire life and some how you think a pitiful 45 days in jail and a $25k fine on his old company which is already filing for bankruptcy and he will find a way to weasel out of even that is “enough”?! This man deserves to lose at LEAST 6 years of his life PLUS another year for EVERY violation he repeatedly made that lead to the death of his supposed “best friend.” No, this wasn’t enough, and justice was NOT served today.

    • WS Res March 5, 2022 (9:58 am)

      this stuff happens now and again” – Wow, that’s… really an interesting rephrasing of “a man died due to another man’s negligence.” 

    • Derek March 5, 2022 (10:13 am)

      “Seems about right?” This is awful and you have to be kidding right?

  • flimflam March 5, 2022 (6:22 am)

    If there was enough evidence to point to a guilty verdict, 45 days in jail for another mans death seems pretty light.

  • Fidelia March 5, 2022 (8:10 am)

    Davidm—you seem to have no idea on how much pressure there is on workers to work in dangerous conditions. Employers want the most done with the least expense and we accept it and if every once in a while a worker gets killed or injured it’s okay? It’s 2021 dude! Not 1821! That’s why I support unions so workers can stand up and say no without fear of retaliation and they don’t have to sell each other out

  • Mj March 5, 2022 (9:26 am)

    G Host – do you have first hand knowledge that Phillip’s new business is raking in money with terrible business practices?  How do you know Mr. Numrich is not remorseful regarding the horrible tragedy?

    • Lucy Felton March 5, 2022 (11:57 pm)

      Yes Phil has violated safety laws since Harold was killed. And Phil only cares about jail now. Not anyone else. He blamed it on Max. He is not remorseful. I didn’t hear it in his voice or see it on his face. And none of Phil’s family was in court to support him at all through the whole process.

      • bolo March 6, 2022 (10:47 pm)

        My sympathies…

  • Ryan C March 5, 2022 (9:57 am)

    I’m a pipe layer with the local 242. This job is very dangerous and taking the right measures for safety has to be number 1. I went to school with Mr. Felton and I’m extremely sorry for his loved ones. Being 10-18 ft underground everyday is nerve racking. It only takes a second for a cave in and the weight/pressure will hurt/kill you. Please be safe and make it home to family. 

  • Wng March 5, 2022 (10:28 am)

    The owner and the crew doing the job were very close friends this was a tragedy for everyone. These guys grew up riding bikes, going to school and chasing girls on Alki beach. Many holidays had been spent holidays with one another. These guys had the kind of history together that makes binds so deep they last a lifetime! This has been a life altering event for everyone involved.   

    • flimflam March 5, 2022 (1:13 pm)

      Maybe, but a bit more life altering for the man that died and his family…

    • Rumbles March 5, 2022 (2:47 pm)

      If my best friend was working in an open trench like that, I would have made sure the proper safety equipment was in place.  Period.  

    • Lucy Felton March 5, 2022 (11:42 pm)

      No they weren’t. I’m Harold’s sister. Harold was doing what he was told. And yes Phil has violated safety laws since. 

  • Question Authority March 5, 2022 (12:14 pm)

    Regardless of company policy or safety procedures the only person truly responsible for safety is yourself as you have the most to lose.   As they say in the trades “take a minute to think about working safely, or it’ll be your last minute working”

    • Ivan Weiss March 5, 2022 (4:54 pm)

      So you’re saying you would have “questioned authority” if anybody had told you to go down into a trench that you knew wasn’t properly shored?

    • Lucy Felton March 5, 2022 (11:49 pm)

      Phil knew it wasn’t safe. He wanted the job done. Harold did what he was told. 

    • Mark47n March 6, 2022 (2:46 pm)

      I’ve been an electrician for 24 years. I’ve spent the bulk of my time working in extreme environments (-85F to +135F) in remote research stations and heavy industrial sites. In that time I’ve been the person doing the high risk tasks and the person planning and supervising those same tasks.  I have distinct and sometimes controversial feelings about corporate safety programs and I talk about them with every new kid that I come into contact with at either work or in the classes that I teach. I teach them to be selfish in regards to safety.Corporations are obligated to have safety policies and programs. That said, it’s not uncommon for compliance with those policies to collide with production for the business to be, perhaps, lax in enforcement. It’s not that a business or its principals want employees to get hurt, it’s that safety is expensive…of course the cost of a recordable injury is more expensive than many small business realize. On the level of the worker I want my coworkers and apprentices to know that the owner owner of the business, while they may feel bad and may have to pay out some money, they are not the one that will suffer the lifelong consequences of that injury. The worker and their family will pay the real and true price. So, what do I teach? Be selfish.What do I mean when I say be selfish? I mean be firm in your resolve to not subject yourself to unnecessary risk. This means don’t even do it for your own convenience (this is the hard part). If your employer throws a fit, that’s fine. If they fire you, perhaps that’s not a good place to work. Your safety is your responsibility and the employers responsible for providing the tools for safety, from shoring and arc flash protection to the hearing conservation or asbestos remediation training. These are obligations, and it requires both people to buy in, but the worker has to know their rights and obligations and, sadly many either don’t know their rights or are convinced that those rules are for chumps.I don’t know what really happened that day and the only one that does is dead. That said, the owner didn’t provide the appropriate equipment or foster a safety oriented culture and the employee chose to take risks that were unnecessary, for whatever reason. Alas, the widow and any children will suffer the lifelong consequences. I’m heartened to see a business owner pay the prices for their folly. The man with a shovel is as valuable as the owner. They require one another to make a business work and they should work to protect one another and following regulations is a great way to start.

  • Another One March 5, 2022 (12:24 pm)

    There is never a good excuse for a trench collapse. These things don’t “just happen”. There’s tons of research and training and protocols for this. It’s straight negligence. 

  • Steve March 5, 2022 (1:15 pm)

    I went to school with Phil. He was a good guy. Horrible mistake was made and even though I liked the guy I feel a year would have been proper. He is not a savage like half these posts are suggesting. He would protect his friends. In the industry a lot of corners get cut by employer and employee. Not taking anything away from the guilty verdict, just saying.

    • Lucy Felton March 5, 2022 (11:45 pm)

      I’m Harold’s sister and Phil has always been extremely consistently wreckless. I’ve known him over 25 years

    • Customer of Phil's March 6, 2022 (12:40 pm)

      I’m a customer of Alki Sewer, and by his own admission Phil did not know what he was doing. I’d love to hear his “origin story” in this industry. After a truly boneheaded comedy of errors that left a wake of follow-up construction in my home, Phil told me he was learning as he did this.

      The evidence of the trial likely points out the full detail, but I would need physical evidence that this cave-in accident was anyone’s fault but Phil’s (personally). Also, since I’ve done the simple research necessary to sue him, I know for a fact that he is open for business under a new name.

      I don’t think he should be shunned from a good living for the rest of his life, but anyone writing an insurance policy for his businesses should spot check their due diligence process. He may have a kind heart, but there are kind contractors who are also smart. Phil is not smart. 

  • CAM March 5, 2022 (1:20 pm)

    Some of our biggest criminal justice advocates who like to call people animals and other dehumanizing words seem to have forgotten their tough on crime stance today, which is otherwise applied with fervor and universally before a person is even charged with a crime (let alone convicted 6 years later). 

  • Mary March 5, 2022 (1:51 pm)

    Seems about right??? The risk of trenching in wet dirt without protection has been standard knowledge in the industry since the 70s. This wasn’t some naive homeowner who accidentally killed a buddy. This owner was a licensed professional with enough experience to know he needed to shore. He cut corners and got a man suffocated under a ton of wet mud- about as horrifying a way to go as you can imagine. 45 days is a shockingly light sentence.

  • Mudman March 5, 2022 (2:03 pm)

    I hope we all agree that there is never a good excuse for a trench collapse, just as we do when hearing of a pedestrian being hit by a vehicle.  Construction workers, even union workers, like pedestrians who’ve  walked dangerous streets countless times, do tragically relax at times.   Hindsight of these things, confirms that they don’t “just happen.”  But with humans, they do happen.  Let’s all work together for our sanity and safety.

    • Another One March 5, 2022 (6:49 pm)

      I don’t think this is the best analogy. Trenching has very specific protocols and procedures, and the employer and employee have an established relationship and duty of care. 

  • Hammer in Hand March 5, 2022 (4:10 pm)

    This seems pretty light for a preventable death on a job site. The ultimate responsibility lies with the owner even if there are others under him I charge of safety by job description. The employee should have been trained in safe trench work and could have (should have) said that trench is unsafe and not entered the trench. Sad situation, the fact the owner is setting up a new company has weasel written all over it. By the fact not enough shoring was onsite says to me that corners were being cut. The trench was as deep as a sheet of plywood stood on end even on a day summer there is no way someone should have been in in that ditch with out proper shoringThere is a reason the work cost a lot of money if you have the big boys do it. Because they do it right. I am wondering if the the family could go after the contractor in civil court. L&I and insurance (if the contractor had any) will compensate the family for their losti would never ask or tell an employee to do anything I was not willing to do my self. Throw the book, revoke any current or future trades licensing for life

  • Jay Herzmark March 6, 2022 (11:11 pm)

    Workers compensation law prevents lawsuits against the inured or killed worker’s direct employer. In return, they get the workers comp coverage. In this case, Harold’s wife and daughter get a pension.If the job had been subcontracted, they could have gone after the general contractor since the general isn’t the direct employer.

  • Terremoto March 9, 2022 (9:42 am)

    As an ill-informed homeowner, even I know about hydrostatic pressure after heavy rainfall being very dangerous. Condolences to the worker’s family – this should never have been set up half-way.  

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