A construction worker died in Southampton Village on Monday afternoon when a foundation wall at a work site collapsed, pinning him underneath—and a Southampton Village official said the accident may have been the result of shoddy workmanship and attempts to cut corners on the project.
Facundo Gonzalez, 33, of Farmingville was trapped beneath the fallen concrete wall shortly before 3 p.m. while he was working at a construction site at the southeast corner of North Sea Road and Willow Street. Emergency personnel from Southampton Fire Department, Southampton Village Volunteer Ambulance and the Village Police attempted to resuscitate him after pulling him free.
Mr. Gonzalez was then taken by ambulance to Southampton Hospital to meet a Medevac helicopter that would have transported him to Stony Brook University Medical Center. But the helicopter was called off when he could not be revived and was pronounced dead on the way.
According to Village Police, emergency dispatchers received a 911 call at 2:58 p.m. from another construction worker, who reported that a concrete wall had collapsed, and Mr. Gonzalez was trapped beneath it.
Jon Foster, senior building inspector for Southampton Village, said that the victim had been digging under the wall before the collapse to install footings, structural supports that should have been in place before the concrete wall was poured and the forms were removed.
“They didn’t do the job right,” Mr. Foster said. The concrete wall also should have been reinforced with steel, but it was not reinforced at all, he added. “As they dug the hole, the concrete snapped.”
The wall, which was built on sand, was about 19 feet long and 8 feet high and weighed an estimated 7 tons, Mr. Foster said. “With 14,000 pounds coming down on him, he didn’t stand a chance, which is tragic.”
Mr. Foster said the architectural plan for the foundation had also been altered. Where there should have been a window well for emergency escape access from the basement, a stairwell was being installed instead. “The stairway wasn’t put in yet, but the wall was,” he said.
Rescuers dug beneath the concrete wall, and after 10 minutes they were able to extricate Mr. Gonzalez, police said. At that time, they began CPR and defibrillated Mr. Gonzalez’s heart, Detective Sergeant Herman Lamison said Tuesday.
With an automated external defibrillator still attached to his chest and a brace securing his neck, firefighters and police officers—uniforms dirtied with mud—carried Mr. Gonzalez on a stretcher out of the excavated area to an ambulance.
Mr. Gonzalez was shortly thereafter pronounced dead upon arrival at Southampton Hospital.
Village Police Chief William Wilson said that, though the death was apparently an accident, it was reported to the Suffolk County Homicide Squad. The Village Police routinely notify county homicide detectives whenever there is a death by unnatural causes, he explained. Det. Sgt. Lamison said Wednesday morning that the body is at the Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s office, and that the official cause of death will be reported in the coming days.
A sign for Bérube & Son Construction, along with an August 12, 2008, building permit issued to Valerie Revere, who is the property owner, according to town records, were posted at the end of the driveway. Calls to Bérube & Son were not immediately returned.
Det. Sgt. Lamison said Mr. Gonzalez did not work for Bérube & Son, but rather for a concrete company, Saldana’s Concrete Corporation. He said Mr. Gonzalez was working for the concrete company for at least a couple weeks before the accident. Police believe Mr. Gonzalez was from Mexico, but his immigration status is unknown, the detective sergeant said.
Chief Wilson noted that the construction site is being investigated by the village Building Department and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency charged with enforcing safety and health legislation.
On Tuesday morning, the perimeter of the construction site had been sealed off with police tape, and a stop-work order was posted. Signed by Village Building Inspector Christopher Talbot, the stop work order indicated two violations at the site: “You have failed to comply with the provisions of the New York State building code,” and “A dangerous and unsafe condition exists.”
Behind the police tape, Village Police detectives and OSHA investigators inspected the site.