Seattle contractor charged with felony for employee's death in 2016 trench collapse

January 9, 2018 via The Seattle Times

Harold Felton was working to re-connect a new sewer line to a West Seattle house when the trench where he was working caved in, burying him in wet soil. His boss is accused of criminal negligence in his January 2016 death.

By Sara Jean Green, Seattle Times staff reporter

A Seattle contractor accused of criminal negligence is believed to be the first employer in state history to face felony charges in connection with an employee’s death, according to the state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I).

Phillip Numrich is charged with second-degree manslaughter for allegedly violating and ignoring safety regulations, leading to the collapse of a sewer trench at a West Seattle home in January 2016 that killed 36-year-old Harold Felton, say King County prosecutors.

Numrich, 40, was also charged with violation of labor safety regulation with death resulting, according to the criminal case investigated by a Labor & Industries safety and health officer. A $20,000 warrant has been issued for his arrest, but as of Tuesday afternoon, he had not been booked into jail, jail and court records show.

A message left on Numrich’s business phone was not returned Tuesday.

“It is significant,” Elaine Fischer, an L & I spokeswoman, said of the felony case against Numrich.

She noted an Everett-based landscaper was charged with a misdemeanor crime in 2016 after a 19-year-old employee was killed in a bark-blower truck in Duvall two years earlier.

But “this is a felony charge,” she said of the case against Numrich. “It’s the first time we know of and we looked back 30, 40 years.”

Numrich previously owned Alki Construction, which has since gone out of business. He now owns Alki Sewer, a business that has garnered online reviews as recently as May, charging papers say.

“Because his workplace safety measures were so grossly inadequate in this case, causing the death of the victim, his continued operation of a similar business puts other workers at risk,” senior deputy prosecutors Patrick Hinds and Melinda Young wrote in charging documents.

Harold Felton, 36, died Jan. 26, 2016, when he was buried in a trench cave-in at a West Seattle house as he worked to re-connect a new sewer line to the residence, charging papers say.