Atlantic Drain Owner Convicted in Boston Trench Collapse That Killed 2 Workers

Kevin Otto was found guilty on Thursday in a jury-waived trial

The owner of a company involved in a deadly trench collapse in Boston three years ago has been convicted on two counts of manslaughter in connection with the incident that killed two workers.

Atlantic Drain Service and owner Kevin Otto were found guilty Thursday in a jury-waived trial in Suffolk County Superior Court, the office of District Attorney Rachael Rollins said.

Robert Higgins and Kelvin Mattocks, employees of Atlantic Drain Service Co., were killed on Oct. 21, 2016, when the trench in which they were working collapsed and filled with water from a fire hydrant supply line.

The defense argued the city failed to maintain a fire hydrant that broke, spewing thousands water into a 14-foot ditch on Dartmouth Street where the men drowned, the Boston Globe reported.

Prosecutors countered that Otto had a history of safety violations and knew at the time of the incident that additional precautions were needed at the worksite.

"Getting this conviction and the sort of signal that it sends to other contractors, other people who work in city of Boston and elsewhere, that if this is how you conduct your business, this is what's going to happen," prosecutor Lynn Feigenbaum said.

Rollins said the "defendants had a responsibility to take measures ensuring the safety of their employees."

"Instead, they flouted those regulations time and again, without regard for the lives of the workers they recklessly and callously put at risk," Rollins said in a statement.

Labor officials in 2017 levied $1.48 million in penalties on Atlantic Drain Service for "18 willful, repeat, serious and other-than-serious violations of workplace safety standards."

According to a report by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Otto, who oversaw the work being done when the trench collapsed, did not take measures to protect his employees and did not train them to recognize such hazards.

"The deaths of these two men could have and should have been prevented," Galen Blanton, the New England regional administrator for OSHA, said. "Their employer, which previously had been cited by OSHA for the same hazardous conditions, knew what safeguards were needed to protect its employees but chose to ignore that responsibility."

Otto, according to OSHA, did not install a support system to protect the employees from a cave-in or to prevent the hydrant line from collapsing. Other violations OSHA named include failures to provide a ladder in the trench at all times, give hardhats and eye protection to employees, and remove support structures near the trench that posed overhead hazards.

Jennifer Lewis, whose brother was killed, flew in from California for the verdict.

"He was my big brother. He was wonderful - good friend to everybody and he was a hard worker," she said of Higgins.

The verdict however, was bittersweet.

"Nothing is going to bring him back so this is the best outcome we could get out of all of this," Lewis said.

Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 4.

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