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Owner Of Brooklyn Construction Company Charged With Manslaughter In Worker's Death

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The owner of a Brooklyn construction company has been charged with manslaughter following a wall collapse that left one worker dead and two others seriously injured.

Michael Weiss, 47, of Williamsburg, owns RSBY NY Builders Inc. and Park Ave Builders Inc., both in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

He faces 14 counts, including second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.

The charges stem from a Sept. 3, 2015 incident at a construction site on Myrtle Avenue in Bed-Stuy. 

Workers were replacing a single-story building with a five-story one, when Weiss ordered them to excavate an area that was not approved by the Department of Buildings, Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzale alleged Wednesday.

"Despite repeated requests from his workers in the months, and even just hours before the collapse, Weiss refused to provide any material for shoring or underpinning of the excavation and adjacent exposed walls – despite OSHA regulations requiring him to do so – and refused to listen to the safety concerns of his workers, insisting they continue working in an unsafe area," Gonzale said.

An adjacent wall eventually collapsed, crushing 18-year-old Fernando Vanegaz to death and seriously hurting two other workers.

Vanegaz had only been in the United States for eight months and had no safety training, WCBS 880's Alex Silverman reported. Nonetheless, authorities said Vanegaz and his fellow workers knew the pit they were digging was dangerous.

"It was obvious to everyone that it was a potential death trap," Gonzalez said. "His death was absolutely foreseeable."

Authorities also said Weiss couldn't get the proper licenses for the construction site in the first place.

"The corners that Weiss cut led to a wall collapse that killed one of his workers and seriously injured two others," Gonzalez said.

Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters said there have been 33 construction deaths during the building boom of the past two years.

Yet, the Department of Buildings has no database to track or identify sites that may be operating improperly, 1010 WINS' Juliet Papa reported.

Weiss was held on $250,000 bond or $100,000 cash and faces up to 15 years in prison.

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