Two charged in connection with fatal trench collapse at Vernon construction site
Police have charged an equipment operator and a construction company owner in connection with a fatal trench collapse at a Vernon construction site in 2022 that killed a 56-year-old husband and father of three.
Dennis Slater, who worked for Botticello Inc., died after a 25-foot wall of soil surrounding a trench he was laying pipe in collapsed on him, burying him in soil on the afternoon of July 22, 2022, according to court and Vernon Police Department records.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration this year fined the Manchester contractor for failing to follow safety rules that could have prevented a trench collapse. The workplace safety agency said the contractor, Botticello Inc., had been warned about what inspectors called four serious trench safety violations on an earlier job in Stafford. Botticello Inc. faced $375,000 in OSHA fines, the agency said.
Slater’s colleagues tried to dig him out using their hands and an excavator, but Slater was unconscious and taking shallow breaths by the time other construction workers freed his upper body from the soil and began CPR, according to police records.
First responders pulled him out of the trench on a stretcher attached to rope and he was rushed to a hospital where he died. A medical examiner ruled that Slater died from blunt impact injury of the head, torso and extremities with chest compression, according to arrest warrants.
Police on Friday charged Glen Locke, an equipment manager and the foreman on the job site, and and company owner Dennis J. Botticello, 67, of Suffield, with first-degree manslaughter and first-degree reckless endangerment.
Warrants for their arrests allege safety violations on the job site, including an alleged lack of ladders to climb out of the trench, alleged lack of measures to secure the trench from collapse and inadequate training for Locke, according to the warrant affidavit.
Slater’s death was investigated by Vernon police, the state Department of Labor, and OSHA, records show.
Botticello Inc. had been subcontracted to build a new housing development off Bolton Branch Road in Vernon called Laurelwoods Farms that was being built by J.A. Jaques Construction LLC., police said in the warrants.
Locke, of Somers, was working on the job site as an equipment operator and serving as the foreman on the site, the warrants said.
On the day of Slater’s death, Locke was operating a John Deere excavator to move pipe into the trench. He later allegedly attempted to use the excavator to find Slater under the dirt, police said in the warrants.
During a later interview Locke allegedly admitted that the trench Slater was working in had collapsed twice on the day Slater died, according to the warrant affidavit. Locke allegedly told police they were supposed to use a “trench box” to maintain the wall but were not doing so on this job site. “I guess we play the odds” he told an investigator, police said in the warrant.
A friend of Slater’s told investigators that Slater had texted her not long before his death to complain “of the trench on his job site collapsing twice on him.” Those text messages were included in the warrants for Locke and Botticello’s arrests.
Federal code states that each employee in an excavation shall be protected from cave-ins by an adequate protective system. Ladders or other ways to climb out of the trench available at specific intervals also are required.
Locke allegedly told investigators from the Department of Labor that they would just bring ladders over when necessary to get in and out of the trench, even though he knew they were supposed to have ladders every 25 feet, police said in the warrant.
The only ladders present when police arrived were the ladders placed by the fire department, police said.
The warrant notes that Locke was the foreman in charge, even though he had no trench or excavation training.
At one point, Locke allegedly told investigators that “he had dug a few holes in his day but not a lot of excavations,” according to the warrants.
Boticello allegedly told investigators that Locke “knew enough,” according to the warrants.
A witness who was working the day Slater died said that he did not view Slater’s death as a “freak accident” because they “could have [expletive] saved him” with a trench box, according to the warrants.
The arrest warrant for Botticello, who was the company owner and supervisor on site, alleged Botticello failed to ensure OSHA safety measures required to protect Slater.
Investigators listed those alleged failures as lack of shields or trench boxes on sight, a lack of safety methods such as sloping or benching, no means of egress from the trench, and a lack of proper training for Locke, according to the warrants.
“An important part of the mission of the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General is to investigate allegations of criminal conduct related to employers who willfully violate worker safety laws,” said Jonathan Mellone, special agent-in-charge, northeast region, U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, in a statement. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to hold those who jeopardize workers’ safety accountable.”
Both men were arrested Friday and were being held in lieu of $50,000 bonds. They are scheduled to appear in Superior Court in Rockville on March 6, police said.