Construction workers recount what happened during the deadly trench collapse near Breckenridge in November
The workers said they felt like they didn’t receive proper training and that they had safety concerns before the incident that killed 20-year-old Marlon Diaz
Editor’s note: This story includes information from two current employees of A4s Construction who witnessed the fatal trench collapse. Summit Daily News has granted them anonymity due to their fears of retaliation that could affect their livelihood.
April 16 marked five months since 20-year-old Marlon Diaz died in a trench collapse near Breckenridge.
Diaz was working for Eagle County-based A4S Construction, and at the time of the incident, he was planting a sewer line for a new housing development at 206 Sallie Barber Road near Breckenridge.
At about 4:15 p.m., firefighters with the Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District responded to a call regarding a trench collapse that had buried Diaz and partially buried another crew member. Some of the construction workers were able to dig the second person out, but Diaz ultimately died due to blunt force injuries to the head, neck and torso, according the autopsy report provided by the Summit County Coroner’s Office.
The toxicology report, which was obtained by the Summit Daily News on Wednesday, April 20, noted that the only substance found in Diaz’s system was cotinine, a byproduct of nicotine.
In the months following his death, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been conducting an investigation into the incident. Local authorities reported that a safety device — a steel box meant to protect workers in the event of a trench collapse — was not in use when they arrived on the scene.
In an email, OSHA spokesperson Juan Rodríguez said that by law, OSHA has up to six months to complete investigations and that since this incident involved a fatality, the agency will likely need all of that time to complete its findings.
While friends and family of Diaz await the results of that investigation, a few of Diaz’s co-workers say they don’t need a stack of documents to tell them what happened that day. Some said the nightmares and memories they have provide constant reminders.
A couple of Diaz’s co-workers said, through an interpreter, that a good portion of their construction crew immigrated to the U.S. and that their families live far away. The co-workers said their crew feels like family and that they take care of one another like their own. One co-worker said losing Marlon “felt very ugly.” Another co-worker named Martin Nunez Hernandez, who quit A4S Construction after Diaz died, said he often felt humiliated on the job.
After Marlon’s death, Hernandez said he struggled for weeks.
“I was traumatized for two weeks,” he said. “I had bad nightmares, and I couldn’t get to work because of the death of my friend.”
Out of the four workers interviewed, two of them said they hadn’t received much training before starting work at A4S Construction. Any training the pair did receive was reportedly offered only in English. Their native language is Spanish.
Like Hernandez, Alberto Camunez chose to leave A4S Construction after Diaz died. Through the interpreter, he said he didn’t feel operations were handled well before the incident and that he had tried voicing these concerns to his employer.
“Several times, I disagreed with what was going on,” Camunez said. “I didn’t think things were right, the way they were doing the project. It was not right, and sometimes my superior got into an argument with me and even tried to fight with me. He was very upset because I was telling him that things were not being done right.”
On Nov. 16, 2021, Hernandez and a few other co-workers were working in the trench to help Diaz install the sewer line. Hernandez said the steel safety box that authorities found at the site was set aside for another trench on the same property.
At the time, Hernandez said he thought some kind of safety barrier to hold up the walls of the trench, such as another steel box, should have been used in the trench he and his team were working in. Another worker said they thought the same thing.
Later that day, Hernandez said he heard a loud bang. He sprinted over to the trench where he, Diaz and another worker had been planting the sewer line earlier in the day.
“I heard a whistle blow, and I heard a loud sound,” Hernandez said. “When I made it there, I just saw them buried, and I saw (them), and I just started digging until I found the hand of one of our co-workers.”
Hernandez and a few other co-workers pulled the partially buried man out of the rubble. That man did not sustain any major injuries.
Some of the workers said the site was shut down for a couple of weeks by OSHA. Some of them were sent to other A4S Construction projects in the meantime and others didn’t work.
Though Hernandez and Camunez have since left A4S Construction, a couple of other workers have stayed with the company. One said he stayed with the company because it was difficult to find another job during winter, which began shortly after the incident. The pair who stayed also noted that they came to the U.S. for a better life and that they need to work to be able to provide for their families.
Now that some time has passed, Diaz’s co-workers have started to heal. Like Diaz’s family, they said they remember Diaz as someone who loved to be around others. Hernandez and one of the other co-workers said Diaz was always willing to pick them up and carpool to work or use his car to take them all out on fun outings. Camunez and a co-worker said Diaz was always ready to work and eager to learn how to do a job well.
The report for the investigation into the incident should be wrapped up within the next month or so. A4S Construction did not return a request for comment before publication.
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