Seattle construction owner sentenced for 2016 workplace death

The owner of Alki Construction was sentenced to jail in what the state labor agency calls a historic case to hold business owners responsible for a workplace death.

SEATTLE — A West Seattle construction company’s owner was sentenced to jail Friday for the death of one of his workers who died when a trench collapsed at a site in 2016.

Phillip Numrich, the owner of Alki Construction, was sentenced to 45 days in jail in what the Washington Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) calls a historic case to hold an employer criminally responsible for a workers’ death.

An L&I investigation found Numrich and Alki Construction “knowingly ignored basic, common-sense safety rules” in the 2016 workplace death. 

L&I said Numrich allowed work to go on in an eight to ten-foot deep trench, even though he had only brought enough safety equipment to protect two of the four sides of the trench from a cave-in.

When the trench caved, worker Harold Felton, a 36-year-old, was buried under more than six thousand pounds of dirt and died.

Numrich told investigators he knew his workers were digging in rain-soaked, unstable soil, according to L&I. Numrich had left the worksite for lunch at the time the trench collapsed.

L&I cited and fined the company for multiple workplace safety violations in 2016.

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The Washington State Supreme Court ruled an employer can be charged with a felony in connection with a workplace fatality in 2021, clearing the way for criminal prosecution. The King County Prosecutor moved forward with a felony charge of second-degree manslaughter.

Numrich agreed to plead guilty to attempted reckless endangerment and was sentenced Friday.

“It is extremely rare for an employer to face jail time as a result of an on-the-job fatality,” Joel Sacks, L&I Director, said, “The ultimate responsibility to keep workers out of needlessly dangerous situations lies with the employer.”

Numrich will also serve a 18-month probation that limits his contact with the Felton family and the type of work his company can perform.

Alki Construction pleaded guilty to violations of the Washington Industrial Safety & Health Act and will pay a $25,000 fine. This is in addition to the fine issued in 2016.

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