SANTA ROSA (CBS SF) – A vineyard manager was sentenced Thursday to 30 days in jail and 80 hours of community service for removing a safety device in a tractor that overturned and killed a worker in 2011.
James Poole, 61, of Windsor, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor labor code violation that prohibits the removal of a manufacturer’s safety device.
The company he worked for, Vino Farms Inc. of Lodi, was ordered to pay $200,000 in fines and restitution to the victim’s family, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch said.
Poole ordered the removal of a “kill switch” that shuts off the engine and stops the tractor’s movement whenever the driver leaves the tractor’s seat, Ravitch said.
Vineyard worker Jose Antonio Ambriz-Luquin, 37, was working alone at a local vineyard off Piner Road in Santa Rosa on the night of Jan. 22, 2011.
Ambriz-Luquin tried to get out of the tractor’s narrow opening but his clothes got caught. With the kill switch inoperable, the tractor moved forward and pinned him underneath it, Ravitch said. He died of his injuries several days later.
Poole’s attorney Chris Andrian said Poole removed the kill switch because the tractor drivers said it made the seat too hot to sit in.
California law holds an employer responsible if a safety device exists but is not used, Andrian said. The kill switch, however, is not required, but was a feature offered by the tractor’s manufacturer, he said.
Andrian said the question at a trial would have been whether an employer is still required to keep a safety device if it does not work.
Poole still feels he was at fault and the vineyard management company and the victim’s family had a close relationship, so Poole did not want the case to go to trial, Andrian said.
“The settlement was fair and everyone is fine with it,” he said.
Ravitch said workers have the right to expect they will return home safe at the end of a work day and that their employers will keep all safety devices in place on work equipment.
“Companies and supervisors who disable safety devices will be held accountable for the sake of workers who depend on them,” Ravitch said.
Vino Farms Inc. agreed to change some of its procedures to comply with worker safety laws and to strengthen some of its policies to ensure workers will be able to get emergency help when working alone, Ravitch said.
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