Bradley Hogue, 19, was killed in 2014 after getting caught in the auger of a bark-blower truck.
King County has taken the rare move of filing criminal charges against an Everett-based landscaping company over the death of a 19-year-old worker, killed in a bark-blower truck at a Duvall home in 2014.
It’s the first time in more than 20 years that the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has criminally prosecuted a private company over a workplace-safety incident, said spokesman Dan Donohoe.
“It doesn’t happen very often,” he said.
Documents filed Friday in King County Superior Court allege Pacific Topsoils Inc. “willfully and knowingly” violated health and safety laws that resulted in the death of Bradley Hogue of Lake Stevens.
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The charges are punishable by a fine of up to $100,000. A representative of the company must appear at an arraignment on June 27.
Pacific Topsoils released a statement Friday saying it is “disappointed” in the charges, and that the company has worked with the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) “to implement changes and improvements they recommended over the past two years.”
Hogue died the morning of July 7, 2014, his second day of work at Pacific Topsoils, while unloading bark from a blower truck.
According to charging documents, he was positioned in the back of the truck with a pitchfork to break up “tunnels” that could form as the bark moves through a conveyor belt and auger mechanism.
While Hogue was still in the back of the truck, two other workers went around the side of the home and used a remote control to turn on the feeder and blower mechanism after it jammed, the documents state.
The system stopped working again after a few minutes, and the two other workers called to Hogue, but he did not respond.
First responders found him tangled in the auger and rotating bars of the feeder mechanism. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
In 2015, L&I fined Pacific Topsoils $199,000 for 16 violations over the incident, two of which were considered willful, the agency said. The company has appealed the fine.
The two willful violations concerned the company’s protocols for how workers determine that machines are powered off and safe to access, also known as “lockout/tagout.”
“We felt this case showed a deliberate disregard for safety of employees,” L&I spokesman Tim Church said Friday. “It was a situation where the company knew what it was doing was incorrect and did it anyway.”
Church said L&I has occasionally recommended criminal charges in worker-safety incidents, and it did so in Hogue’s death. This is the first time since the 1990s that charges have been filed in Washington state, he added.
In the two years since Hogue’s death, his family has been speaking out on worker safety.
“It’s just unbelievable that what happened, happened,” Alan Hogue, Bradley’s father, said Friday. “We’ve been trying to get to the cause of it the best we can.”
He said his son’s friends have been talking with the family about how they will commemorate the second anniversary of Bradley’s death next month.
“I had no idea he was such a well-liked kid. He had so many friends,” Alan Hogue said.