Contractor Faces $59,153 in Penalties After Fatal Collapse at JFK Airport

A Bronx water and sewer line construction firm is facing fines totaling $59,153 after two employees were crushed to death while on a jobsite at John F. Kennedy International Airport. 

U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors found that Triumph Construction Corp. could have prevented the April 3, 2023, deaths of Francisco Reyes, 41, and Fernando Lagunas Pereira, 28, had proper trench safeguards been in place while the two were working on the company’s $49 million portion of a larger $19 billion project at the airport.

According to OSHA inspectors, the two workers were relocating utility lines and attempting to remove soil from below a concrete slab located within a trench when the slab broke apart and collapsed, killing them both. Emergency responders attempted to rescue Pereira and Reyes from the rubble, but both men were pronounced dead at the scene.

The New York Times reported that at the time of the J.F.K. collapse, Triumph Construction said in a statement that it was “heartbroken” over the two men’s deaths and that “the safety of our employees is always our top priority.”

OSHA investigators said the fatalities could have been prevented had Triumph Construction ensured proper safeguards. 

“Working in excavations is inherently dangerous. Demolition of existing structures must be carefully planned, and shoring systems must be built according to their design,” said Kevin Sullivan, OSHA’s Long Island and Queens area director. “Employers are obligated to make a good faith effort to recognize, evaluate and control workplace hazards throughout the course of the work and as conditions change, which Triumph did not do.”

He added that diligent oversight and management of changing worksite conditions could have helped prevent the tragedy from happening.

According to OSHA records, 2022 was the deadliest year for those working in trenches or excavations in 18 years. A total of 39 people died in trench collapses, which was more than double the number in 2021.

To date, there has been about one-third of that number, 12, in 2023.

Based on the OSHA investigation, Triumph Construction has been cited with four serious safety violations. Per OSHA, the company failed to: 

  • Support the concrete slab, exposing both employees to the danger of a collapse.
  • Instruct employees on safe methods to remove the slab and provide supervision to ensure those methods are followed.
  • Construct the excavation’s protective system based on designs in accordance with OSHA standards.

The company has previously been cited for similar violations of failing to provide safety measures involving excavations in 2014 and 2018. 

Relating to the current violations, Triumph Construction can contest the findings and the $59,153 in proposed penalties.

Since the incident, work on Triumph’s portion of the airport project has been halted due to an ongoing investigation by the Port Authority.

The New York Times cited a spokesman for the Queens district attorney suggesting that an investigation is continuing to determine if any criminal charges will result from the collapse.

More criminal charges are being filed at the state and federal levels about such safety violation incidents. Just this year alone, multiple criminal cases relating to incidents as far back as 2017 have advanced or led to convictions.

Finbar O’Neill and his construction company, Onekey LLC of Hackensack, New Jersey, are charged with willfully violating OSHA regulations resulting in the August 3, 2017, death of Maximiliano Saban and the injury of another worker.

In March, Jiaxi “Jimmy” Liu, 49, former owner and operator of WSC Group, was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and his foreman Wilson Garcia Jr., 48 of criminal mischief, after a worker was killed in an excavation in New York City when dirt and debris collapsed on him in September 2018.

Criminal charges have been filed in Connecticut against Dennis Botticello, owner of Manchester-based Botticello Inc., and one of his operators, Glen Locke, following the death of a worker in a trench that had already collapsed twice before the fatal incident occurred in July 2022.

Also, Peter Dillon, 54, pleaded guilty in August 2023, after being charged with reckless manslaughter. following the death of an employee who was installing a sewer line on November 16, 2021.