Company, Owner Guilty of Manslaughter in Workers’ Deaths on Dartmouth Street

The owner of a drain company and the corporation itself have been found guilty of recklessly causing the deaths of two workers on Dartmouth Street in 2016 when the trench they were working in collapsed, and they drowned in surging water coming out of a broken fire hydrant.

Robert Higgins and Kelvin Mattocks both died in the trench collapse, and the company they worked for, and its owner, were found guilty.

The Suffolk Superior Court trial of Atlantic Drain Services, Inc., and its owner and sole officer, Kevin Otto, 45, of Blackstone, was jury waived and Judge Mitchell Kaplan announced his verdict last week. 

During the course of the eight-day trial, Assistant District Attorneys Lynn Feigenbaum and Michael V. Glennon introduced evidence and testimony to prove that Higgins and Mattocks were killed while working for Atlantic Drain Services at an excavation site on Oct. 21, 2016.  The evidence proved that Otto and Atlantic Drain Service knowingly and willfully place the victims in extreme danger by failing to utilize cave-in protection, and that Otto lied and produced false documentation to investigators in the wake of the men’s deaths.

The victims were working in a trench at 12 Dartmouth St. in the South End, where Atlantic Drain Services had been hired to install water and sewer lines.  The company was not utilizing cave-in prevention measures. Otto and Atlantic Drain Services were aware of the grave danger this created for workers; the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration had cited the company in 2007 and again in 2012 for failing to utilize the safety precautions. OSHA also required the company to provide comprehensive safety training to employees.

At approximately 12:30 p.m. on Oct. 21, 2016, dirt began to slough off the sides of the trench, partially burying the men up to their waists.  A fire hydrant on the side of the collapsing trench fell into the hole, filling it with water within seconds, drowning the trapped victims. 

During the course of the thorough investigation into the tragedy, the DA’s Office was assisted by the federal Occupation Safety and Health Administration, as well as the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Labor and the Boston Police Department. OSHA subpoenaed documents from Atlantic Drain Services and in response, the company attempted to mislead the investigation by providing falsified documents, including sign-in sheets for excavation and trenching trainings and workers’ signed acknowledgement of receipt of personal safety equipment. 

“The defendants had a responsibility to take measures ensuring the safety of their employees.  Instead, they flouted those regulations time and again, without regard for the lives of the workers they recklessly and callously put at risk,” District Attorney Rollins said.  “Today’s verdicts will not ease the pain of the families of Mr. Higgins and Mr. Mattocks, but it sends a strong message that, in Suffolk County, those who willfully risk their employees’ lives will face criminal consequences.  The legacy of Mr. Higgins and Mr. Mattocks and their hard work to provide for their families will never be forgotten.  I am in awe of the strength and resilience that survivors show every day.  These two families are no different.”

Sentencing before Judge Mitchell Kaplan will take place at 9 a.m. Dec. 4, in courtroom 907 of Suffolk Superior Court.

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