‘An emptiness in our hearts’: Diaz family wants justice for son who died in 2021 Breckenridge trench collapse
The family of Marlon Diaz, the 20-year-old from Honduras who died in a trench collapse near Breckenridge in 2021, welcomed news that the owner of the company that had employed their son has been charged with manslaughter.
On the 16th day of every month, Diana and Marlon Diaz visit their son’s tomb in a cemetery near their home in Choluteca, Honduras. There, beside their son’s grave on the anniversary of his death, they said feelings of grief and loss tend to well up.
“It just breaks our hearts,” Marlon Diaz Sr. said in Spanish.
Named after his father, 20-year-old Marlon Diaz died Nov. 16, 2021, in a trench collapse near Breckenridge while doing excavation work for the Vail-based company A4S Construction. He had come to the United States about 11 months earlier to make a better life not only for himself, according to his father, but for his family back home in Central America.
During a Zoom interview using an interpreter on Monday, Feb. 6, Marlon Diaz’s mother and father appeared on screen together from Honduras along with an aunt, Ana Diaz, who joined from Maryland.
“We relied on his economic support,” the elder Marlon Diaz said of his son. Before his death, his son had plans to send the money he earned while working in Colorado home to pay for treatment of his mother’s epilepsy symptoms, he said.
“We really want justice because he wanted to make our lives easier — to help us through the rough times,” Marlon Diaz said.
So, when Summit County prosecutors late last month charged Peter Dillon, the owner of the now-defunct A4S construction company, with manslaughter stemming from the death of the younger Marlon Diaz, the Diaz family welcomed the news — albeit with heavy hearts.
“I was happy to know that this was happening,” Ana Diaz, the aunt of the late Marlon Diaz, said. “I was also sad because all of my feelings came out again.”
Dillon turned himself in to local law enforcement after a warrant was issued for his arrest Jan. 24. His arrest comes after the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined the trench collapse could have been prevented by using legally required trench-protection systems.
But, Marlon Diaz’s family said the 20-year-old — who they remember as a calm, quiet young man who loved to play soccer — would not have known about laws related to occupational safety. Other construction workers who worked at the same site as Marlon Diaz previously told Summit Daily that they felt they didn’t receive proper training and that they had safety concerns even before his death.
“Our boys come here with no training whatsoever, with no knowledge of these laws that permit them to request the proper equipment” Ana Diaz, who lives in Maryland, said. “He had no idea. He just got the job and didn’t know what to request for.”
Last May, OSHA issued three willful citations to A4S for not ensuring the excavation was inspected by a competent person, failing to instruct employees on the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions, and not having a trench-protection system in place. Investigators also issued an additional serious citation for not having a safe means of egress within 25 lateral feet of employees working in a trench.
A lawyer for Dillon did not return a request for comment Tuesday. Dillon posted a $7,500 cash bond the same day he turned himself in to police. He is scheduled to appear at the Summit County Combined Courts in Breckenridge on Feb. 15 for a preliminary demand hearing.
According to OSHA’s report, Dillon said A4S did not have a written safety and health program, and he never conducted safety audits or inspections at his worksites, including the one near Breckenridge where the trench collapsed.
The agency proposed penalties of about $450,000 and placed the company in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program, according to the Department of Labor. Dillon eventually reached a settlement agreement with OSHA and paid $100,000 in penalties, according to a copy of that settlement obtained through a public records request.
A4S has shuttered, and Dillon agreed to forfeit any future ownership, leadership or management position that involves trenching, excavation or the oversight of workplace safety and health, according to the Department of Labor.
Ana Diaz said after Marlon Diaz’s death, Dillon had told the family that the company would pay for his funeral expenses. But she says that never happened.
“He did not fulfill his word,” she said. “It doesn’t even ease the pain whether he pays it or not. It’s just that he doesn’t care. He doesn’t take into consideration the pain us as a family went through — and are going through.”
The hardest thing, Ana Diaz said, is knowing that the younger Marlon Diaz had so much life left to live.
“I feel there is an emptiness in our hearts because this boy — my nephew — was very educated. He was very polite, and he had many goals — then his life just ended in a minute,” Ana Diaz said. “There were so many goals that were unmet, and he had so many ideas (of what) to do with his life, young life, that he was working towards them.”
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