September 30, 2003
The Associated Press
A Long Island subcontractor pleaded guilty to manslaughter Tuesday in connection with the deaths of five workers killed in a Manhattan scaffold collapse.
Philip V. Minucci, 42, of Commack, N.Y., pleaded guilty to a single count of second-degree manslaughter in exchange for a sentence that state Supreme Court Justice Rena Uviller said will not exceed four to 12 years. She set sentencing for Jan. 14.
Minucci, head of Tri State Scaffold and Equipment Supplies, Inc., admitted that he erected a scaffold that could not support the weight put on it, and he conceded that he did not have a licensed engineer inspect the structure as the law required.
Minucci had been charged with five counts of second-degree manslaughter and four counts of assault for injuries to other workers. Although he pleaded guilty to a single manslaughter count he acknowledged responsibility for all the deaths and injuries.
"I was aware that the scaffolding was potentially dangerous," Minucci told the judge. He said he designed the structure himself but did not know its load capacity.
Assistant District Attorney Daniel McGillycuddy interjected that Minucci knew he was required to have a licensed engineer review plans for the scaffold. He said that when the scaffold collapsed, on Oct. 24, 2001, in the courtyard of a Park Avenue building under renovation, it was holding three times its capacity.
Prosecutors said Minucci won the job mainly because he promised to put planking at every level of the 13-story scaffold. This allows the work to be done faster because it eliminates the need to continually move the planking upward as the work progresses.
However, planking on every level adds significantly to the weight of the scaffold.
At the time of the collapse, 16 workers were on the scaffold. Some were crushed to death; others suffocated because their chests were compressed by debris.
Munucci had faced up to five to 15 years in prison on each account of second-degree manslaughter, and up to seven years on each count of second-degree assault.
Personal Injury attorney Todd D. Greenberg represented the family of one of the workers killed in this accident. Mr. Greenberg's client, the estate of accident victim Manuel Balarezo Sumba, received a settlement of $3 million. Mr. Greenberg released the following statement in response to the settlement:
"The Sumba family hopes that the payment of substantial damages will draw the public's attention to the seriousness of failing to provide a safe work environment. The family was deeply saddened to hear of a similar accident that occurred only weeks later where two brothers from Ecuador were seriously injured by the collapsing of a scaffold causing the fatality of one of the brothers. The lives of immigrant workers are not expendable and safety precautions must be met."