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Kevin Otto, owner of a now-defunct Boston-area Atlantic Drain Services, was sentenced to two years in jail over the deaths of two workers killed in a trench collapse three years ago.
Otto and his company were convicted Oct. 31 on two counts of manslaughter in the deaths of Robert Higgins, 47, and Kelvin Mattocks, 57, while working at an excavation site on Oct. 21, 2016 in Boston’s South End.
During the course of the eight-day bench trial, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Mitchell Kaplan found that Otto and Atlantic “knowingly and willfully” put Higgins and Mattocks in extreme danger by failing to use cave-in protection, and that Otto lied and produced false documentation to investigators in the wake of the men’s deaths.
The judge sentenced Otto to two years in prison for each death, with the sentence to run concurrent, and three years of probation. The judge also ruled that Otto can never employ anyone in a job that involves excavation. Prosecutors had asked a judge to sentence Otto to seven to 10 years in prison.
The victims were working in a 14-foot deep trench where Atlantic had been hired to install water and sewer lines. The company was not utilizing cave-in prevention measures. Higgins and Mattocks drowned after a fire hydrant ruptured on the side of the collapsing trench, filling it with water within seconds.
Otto and Atlantic had two prior Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations in 2007 and again in 2012 for failing to utilize trench safety precautions. OSHA also required the company to provide comprehensive safety training to employees.
Prosecutors argued during the trial that the company doctored paperwork to appear that employees had attended training when they had not.
The trench collapse resulted in an OSHA fine of nearly $1.5 million and 18 safety violation citations. After the tragedy, Boston government passed a regulation to deny, revoke or suspend permits for any contractor with a poor record of ensuring their workers’ safety. Contractors must now provide their OSHA safety record along with the application. The building department can also revoke or deny a permit if it finds out that the applicant has not been honest about its safety history.