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Charges Stand in 2 Manure Pit Deaths

May 03, 2003|From Associated Press

MERCED, Calif. — A judge Friday let stand manslaughter charges against two men indicted in the deaths of two irrigation workers who drowned in a manure pit, but told prosecutors to reduce 20 worker safety violations to a single count.

The case is among the first to be prosecuted under a new state law that lets authorities file felony charges for worker safety violations. Merced County prosecutors used that law to charge Patrick J. Faria, a former owner of a Gustine-area dairy, and Alcino Sousa Nunes, the foreman, in the February 2001 deaths.

Enrique Araisa, 29, was overcome by gases from the excrement as he tried to fix a pump in a large concrete waste pipe. He fell into a pool of liquid manure and drowned. Jose Alatorre, 22, fainted and fell into the waste while attempting a rescue. One of the workers was tethered to a rope, but no other safety codes were followed, prosecutors said.

The workers at the Aquiar-Faria and Sons dairy were not provided proper training or respiratory equipment, and the air in the pipe was not tested before they entered the confined space, according to the February indictment. Work in confined spaces, such as grain silos and wine vats, requires air monitoring and safety harnesses.

On Friday, Merced County Judge Frank Dougherty ordered prosecutors to combine the code violations into a single count. He ordered the defendants to return for a May 23 arraignment on the amended indictment.

Attorney Kirk McAllister said his client, Faria, 51, will plead innocent. The attorney for Nunes, 44, wouldn't comment.

The state has imposed a $126,650 fine on the dairy, which has appealed.

State regulators said inspections were increased after a third such death last August. Sergio Ortiz, 43, who worked for Turlock Irrigation Construction, apparently collapsed from fumes and tumbled into a pipe used to drain dairy waste into lagoons.

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