Employer pleads guilty in trench collapse death
An employer charged in the 2019 death of one of his staff pleaded guilty to reduced charges with a possible 14 month jail sentence.
On Monday, Bryan D. Johnson, 52, pleaded guilty in Grand County Court to two counts of reckless endangerment and one count of third-degree assault for the death of Rosario “Chayo” Martinez-Lopez, which was caused by a trench collapse on a worksite in Granby.
Johnson faces a sentence of up to 14 months in county jail, three years of supervised probation, 100 hours of community service, a $2,000 donation split between Habitat for Humanity Grand County and Grand County Search and Rescue, as well as requirements to attend Workers’ Memorial Day and worker safety seminars. Under the plea, Johnson’s original manslaughter charge is dismissed.
Johnson is scheduled to be sentenced on July 14.
This is the second plea agreement brought before the court in Johnson’s case. The first deal would have had Johnson plead guilty to criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment with a possible sentence of four years of supervised probation and up to 90 days in jail, as well as other stipulations.
That plea was rejected by District Court Judge Mary Hoak in December for including a deferred sentence.
Despite the early setback, 14th Judicial District Chief Deputy Attorney Kathryn Dowdell said Monday’s outcome is a just one and will set a precedent for workplace safety in this jurisdiction.
“Although we are disappointed the original agreement the parties and victim’s family viewed as just was rejected initially, the current plea agreement holds the defendant accountable, and gives the county court judge the option of sentencing the defendant to 14 months in the county jail – for acts that previously would have only resulted in OSHA penalties,” Dowdell said in a statement. “We are sending a message to the community that while previously OSHA may have fined you, or regulated your business – you may now face criminal prosecution if you do not ensure the safety of your employees on a construction site.”
According to previous court proceedings, Johnson was on site at the time of the death and had never dug a trench as deep or long as the one on the development site. He also wasn’t trained on how to do so, nor did he meet OSHA requirements for the trench.
A previous records request for the OSHA investigation and settlement regarding Johnson was denied due to the ongoing nature of the case.
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Fifth Judicial District Attorney Heidi McCollum confirmed Monday, Oct. 18, that her office filed a single charge of felony menacing against the district’s Chief Judge Mark Thompson on Saturday, Oct. 16.