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Saturday, May 22, 2004

The New York Times > New York Region > Laborer's Death Prompts Homicide Investigation

The New York Times > New York Region > Laborer's Death Prompts Homicide Investigation

Laborer's Death Prompts Homicide Investigation
By MICHAEL BRICK and JESS WISLOSKI

Published: May 22, 2004


he job paid $90 a day with no benefits. It required heavy lifting while balancing on flimsy platforms three stories high, exposed to the elements but not to the knowledge that the work flouted safety rules and construction blueprints.

Angel Segovia, 37, took the job, and for him there were even more hardships. Besides having to rise at 4:30 a.m. for a two hour train ride or share a three-bedroom apartment with five cousins, Mr. Segovia also had to give up seeing his wife, two daughters and a son for four years, since moving to New York to find work to support them.

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And in the end, which came Thursday morning, the job cost him his life. His employer was Big Apple Development and Construction of Bayside, Queens.

Prosecutors in the Brooklyn district attorney's office opened a homicide investigation into the death of Mr. Segovia, an Ecuadorean immigrant who fell when an illegally constructed balcony roof snapped from the wall of a new luxury condominium building in Brooklyn, law enforcement officials said yesterday.

The city medical examiner's office said his death was caused by blows to his head and torso and injuries to internal organs. The death was ruled an accident, a medical designation that meant the collapse of the balcony was an unexpected event. The ruling did not assign or relieve civil or criminal liability, said Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner's office.

Advocates for laborers and immigrants used Mr. Segovia's death to call for criminal prosecutions of developers and construction companies that put workers at risk. They criticized the efforts of federal labor regulators as ineffective.

Robert M. Morgenthau, the Manhattan district attorney, whose office has no jurisdiction in Mr. Segovia's death, said in a telephone interview that the exploitation of undocumented laborers is increasingly drawing the attention of prosecutors in large cities.

"We're going out and trying to find these cases, because the workers are afraid to report them," Mr. Morgenthau said. "I do think it's a serious and growing problem, the exploitation of illegal workers."

The city's Buildings Department workers, who had sealed off the site of the accident at the intersection of Forth Hamilton Parkway and 97th Street in Bay Ridge, began dismantling the balconies yesterday. Some of the workers on the project returned to the building yesterday to pack up and head off to work on another project for Big Apple in New Jersey.

One of the two workers injured in the collapse, Jose Fernandez, 20, was released from Lutheran Medical Center in Sunset Park, said Neal Gorman, a hospital spokesman. A second injured worker, who was admitted to Lutheran under the name Bac Gumyul, 40, was in critical condition, Mr. Gorman said.

Mr. Segovia and the injured workers were pouring concrete onto a balcony roof that was held up by cantilevered support beams when one of the beams gave way, sending the workers tumbling three stories in a deluge of bricks and flowing wet cement.

The cantilevering contradicted plans on file with the Buildings Department, which issued violations on Thursday against three companies involved in the project - Marine Partners, the owner, of Yonkers; Big Apple Development and Construction, the main contractor; and Pro Weld Fabricators, the contractor on the balcony work, of South Ozone Park, Queens. Officials of those companies did not return repeated calls seeking comment yesterday.

Brian M. McLaughlin, a state Assemblyman and the president of the New York City Central Labor Council, an advocacy group chartered by the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said Mr. Segovia's death underscored the need for criminal prosecutions to ensure safe working conditions for immigrant laborers.

"You have people who come here seeking a better way of life," Mr. McLaughlin said. "They're willing to take a job whether it's dangerous or not."

Across the country, prosecutors in California have been more aggressive than others in pursuing convictions in connection with workplace deaths, but New York prosecutors have had some successes.

In January, Philip V. Minucci, a contractor, was sentenced to 3 to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter charges in the deaths of five construction workers who were killed when a scaffold collapsed at a building in Gramercy Park in October 2001. Mr. Minucci admitted that he had designed the scaffold without regard for its safety.

Mr. Segovia, who had worked as a farmer and construction worker in Ecuador, had viewed the job, dangerous as it was, as a way to build a home for his wife, Emma, and their children, according to relatives in Queens interviewed yesterday who asked that their names be withheld because they fear deportation.

Mr. Segovia had moved to the United States four years ago, and three of his brothers had followed, spreading out to find work in Brooklyn, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. Other family members were closer. Mr. Segovia lived in a three-bedroom apartment on the second floor of a vinyl-sided, two-story home with a view of a car dealership in Jamaica, Queens. So did five of his cousins.

He found work with Big Apple a year after arriving in the United States, and worked for the company steadily for the next three years, his family said. Two years ago, Mr. Segovia broke a hand on the job and was out of work for a few months.

He had not traveled home in those four years because of his immigration status, and his wife and children have never been to the United States for the same reason. His paychecks came twice a month, amounting to a little more than $400 a week, and he sent about $200 a week to his wife, family members said.

"He was building a house in Ecuador," Mr. Segovia's cousin said. "He didn't finish."


Ann Farmer and David Chen contributed reporting for this article

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