Contractor, Equipment Operator Charged with Manslaughter after Trench Death

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Updated Mar 27, 2023
backhoe bucket digging trench
The trench had collapsed twice before the fatal incident, and the contractor had a prior trench violation.
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A contractor in Connecticut and an equipment operator for the company face criminal charges following the death of a worker in a trench that had already collapsed twice before the fatal incident occurred.  

The Vernon Police Department arrested Dennis Botticello and Glen Locke on March 3 on charges of first-degree manslaughter and reckless endangerment. They both have been released on $50,000 bail.

Botticello, 67, is the owner of Manchester-based Botticello Inc., which was already facing proposed penalties of $375,021 after being cited for the incident January 19 by the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration.

Locke, 65, was operating a backhoe for Botticello on July 22 when the cave-in occurred.

Dennis Slater, 56, was in an 8-foot-deep, 135-foot-long trench connecting drainage pipe at a residential development in Vernon when the walls collapsed. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

The trench had already collapsed twice previously before Slater was buried. Ten days before the collapse, Slater had texted to a friend who asked how his day was going, “Not good in trench by myself today trench collapsed twice.”

He added, “Had talk with my boss told him I needed more help.”

After the collapse, Locke and others tried to dig him out. Locke used the backhoe to partially uncover him, and then he and others used their hands to dig, according to CT Insider. Slater was still breathing but unresponsive, and they performed CPR on him until fire and rescue personnel arrived, the news website reports.

Slater was a retired 29-year member of the Broad Brook Fire Department. According to OSHA, Botticello had been cited for serious violations related to trench work in 2015 in Stafford.

At the July 22 incident, OSHA reports that the vertical walls of the trench had no cave-in protection, the trench was not inspected before workers entered and the closest location to exit the trench was 120 feet away when it should have been no more than 25 feet away.

OSHA cited Botticello Inc. on January 19 for three willful violations and proposed $375,021 in penalties for the July 22 incident and for its prior knowledge from the 2015 citations. 

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“This deadly cave-in and the worker’s death should never have happened,” said OSHA Area Director Dale Varney in Hartford. “After a previous OSHA inspection, Botticello Inc. knew of the dangers of working in an unprotected trench and the need to inspect the trench and ensure required effective cave-in protection was in place before any employee entered the trench. The company, however, still chose to ignore these required safeguards and now a worker’s family, friends and co-workers are left to grieve.”

Botticello is contesting the OSHA penalties. He and Locke are scheduled to appear in court March 14.