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Company indicted after worker buried alive

A Fremont-based construction company along with its owner and a project manager has been indicted in Santa Clara County Superior Court on involuntary manslaughter charges for the 2012 death of a carpenter who was buried alive while working on a hillside home in Milpitas.

The county’s grand jury returned an indictment for involuntary manslaughter against U.S.-Sino Investment Inc. in connection with the death of 38-year-old Raul Zapata Mercado, who was crushed by a collapsing 12-foot dirt wall while working on the home on Calaveras Ridge Drive on Jan. 28, 2012, according to the district attorney’s office.

His death followed several days of rain and three days after the city issued a “stop work” notice to the project manager, Dan Luo. In addition, the company never obtained an excavation permit required for projects where people are working in ditches that are 5 feet or deeper, district attorney’s officials said.

Luo, 36, was arraigned today in a San Jose courtroom on the involuntary manslaughter charge. He is out of custody on $50,000 bail, according to Deputy District Attorney Bud Porter.

The company’s owner, 52-year-old Richard Liu of Fremont, is believed to be in China and is wanted on a $1 million arrest warrant. The two men could each face up to three years in prison and the company, which is also named as a defendant in the case, could face fines of up to $1.5 million for labor code violations.

The Contractors State License Board suspended U.S.-Sino Investments’ contractor license days after Mercado’s death. Porter said it is uncommon for companies to be charged in criminal court but that the worker death was clearly a case of criminal negligence.

District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a statement:

“This case is about what happens when construction companies cut corners on safety. … Workplace safety is not an option. What happened to Raul Zapata Mercado was not an accident, it was a crime.”

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