Bradley Hogue, 19, of Lake Stevens, was killed after getting caught in the auger of a bark-blower truck. It was his second day at work.
An Everett-based landscaping company has pleaded guilty to criminal charges in connection with the death of a 19-year-old worker who was killed in a bark-blower truck in 2014.
A representative of Pacific Topsoils entered the plea Monday morning during arraignment in King County Superior Court on a charge of violation of labor-safety regulations. Judge Johanna Bender then imposed the maximum penalty of $100,000, according to Dan Donohoe, spokesman for the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
The case marked the first time in more than 20 years that the prosecutor’s office had criminally charged a private company over a workplace-safety incident. Killed was Bradley Hogue, of Lake Stevens, who was working a summer job with Pacific Topsoils.
The company on Monday also settled its appeal of a citation issued by the state Department of Labor & Industries for the incident, agreeing to pay an additional $100,000 fine.
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Hogue’s father, Alan Hogue, said the settlement will force Pacific Topsoils to improve worker safety, though he said his son’s death will fade from the public’s attention.
“It’s just a drop in the bucket,” he said “It’s like fining me $10 for shooting a neighbor, in my opinion.”
Pacific Topsoils released a statement Monday saying that while the company had safety programs in place before the accident, it has since redoubled its efforts working closely with L & I and outside safety consultants to “create a safety program that we believe is a model for the industry.”
“Worker safety is, and must always, be our top priority. It is a priority we work on every day,” the statement said. “We apologize for our role in the accident, and as today’s resolutions with King County and L & I reflect, we have fully accepted responsibility for our actions.”
The criminal charges alleged Pacific Topsoils “willfully and knowingly” violated health and safety laws that resulted in the July 7, 2014, death of Bradley Hogue on his second day of work 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 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.
Tim Church, a spokesman for the L & I, said the department referred the case to the prosecutor’s office because Pacific Topsoils appeared to be knowingly and willfully disregarding employee safety.
After Hogue’s death, Church said L & I found a total of 16 violations at Pacific Topsoils — 14 categorized as “serious” and two as “willful,” the most serious level of violation. Church said the company has since corrected those violations.
The company was initially fined $199,000 for violations, but the amount was lowered to $100,000 as part of the settlement. The company has also agreed to keep for two years a safety consultant they hired after Hogue’s death, who will be required to report to L & I every six months.
Church said Hogue should have never been asked to get into the back of the hopper.
Alan Hogue, 54, said his son had received no training from the company at the time of his death.
“Brad was told to stay a pitchfork distance away from the augers,” Alan Hogue said. “That was his training.”
Bradley had just graduated high school and was planning to attend community college and become an engineer, he said.
Bradley Hogue’s mother, Deanna Hogue, 51, said the story of her son’s death has already been told at school assemblies put on by L & I.
She said it’s important for parents to talk to their children if they feel something is unsafe, and for parents to report concerns to L & I.