Five Charged With Manslaughter in Death of Chehalis Man at Wind Farm 

Manslaughter: Trial Scheduled for March 2022 Following Death of Jonathan Stringer in January 2020 Trench Collapse 

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Five people are facing manslaughter charges for the death of a Chehalis man who died in January 2020 when a trench that had not been reinforced collapsed during construction of the Skookumchuck Wind Farm along the border of Lewis and Thurston counties.

The charges were filed in Lewis County Superior Court on Aug. 9, 2021 — 20 months after the death of 24-year-old Jonathan F. Stringer, who left behind a young daughter and a fiancée. 

Three of the co-defendants site foreman Matt Buckels, 43, of Edmond, Oklahoma; site manager Kurt Schwarting, 46, of Bakersfield, California; and site supervisor Joel A. Thome, 32, of West Lowville, New York — have been charged with second-degree manslaughter under accusations of criminal negligence. 

The remaining two codefendants — Paul S. Csizsmar, 25, of Brantingham, New York, and Kenneth P. DeShazer, 51, of Los Angeles, California — have each been charged with first-degree manslaughter under accusations that they “did recklessly cause the death” of Stringer, according to court documents. 

Stringer and the five codefendants had been at site of the Skookumchuck Wind Farm Project in Lewis County digging a trench to install a conduit under a culvert on Jan. 9, 2020. During the installation process, the conduit became jammed, and DeShazer entered the trench to set up rigging that would allow them to pull the conduit under the culvert using the excavator. 

Due to poor weather and poor soil conditions, the trench walls collapsed on DeShazer while he was inside, burying him in an estimated 1-and-a-half feet of dirt. Csizsmar and Stringer then jumped into the trench to free DeShazer — but there was a secondary collapse, and all three men were buried “in varying depths of soil,” according to court documents. 

Csizsmar was able to free himself and call for help and DeShazer was “sustained by a pocket of air and survived the trench collapse,” according to court documents, but Stringer was killed. 

His body was recovered the next day. 

An autopsy confirmed that Stringer died “of asphyxiation due to chest compression caused by the weight of soil on top of him from the trench collapse,” according to court documents. 

Buckles, Thome, Csizmar and DeShazer each entered not guilty pleas to their respective charges in Lewis County Superior Court on Tuesday. Schwarting is expected to enter a not guilty plea during his hearing on Wednesday. 

The codefendants waived their rights to a speedy trial. A jury trial was scheduled for the week of March 14, 2022. 

“That’s just given the nature of this case. As I’m sure the court can see, it’s going to be a very big one,” said defense attorney Shane O’Rourke, who is representing Csizsmar. 

An omnibus hearing to confirm that all parties are on-track to be ready for trial was scheduled for Dec. 9 and a trial confirmation hearing was scheduled for March 10.

Judge J. Andrew Toynbee set bail at $50,000 unsecured for the four codefendants who appeared in court for their hearings on Aug. 31, meaning that they can remain out of custody and do not have to pay any of the bail amount unless they miss a court hearing. 

Toynbee also gave them permission to travel in all 50 states, but the codefendants each signed waivers allowing them to be returned to Washington if they break their conditions of release, and Toynbee requested that each of them appear via video to their omnibus hearings. 

“It’s an unusual case and the distance that the parties are traveling is the primary reason why I want the parties to appear via WebEx,” Toynbee said. 

Lewis County Superior Court is expected to set the same bail and release conditions for Schwarting.

The Washington state Department of Labor and Industries approached the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office in early 2020 with the results of their preliminary investigation about the possibility of pursuing criminal charges. It was around that time when Stringer’s estate was negotiating a large settlement against three of the companies involved with the project. 

The prosecutor’s office responded with a list of questions it would need answered to pursue the case, and the investigation continued from there. 

“As you can imagine, a case like this just has thousands of pages of discovery,” said Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer. “We came up with an idea of what appropriate charges would be.” 

Ashlee Thompson, Stringer’s fiance who was present in the courtroom during preliminary and arraignment hearings Tuesday, declined to comment on the cases. The prosecutor’s office notified Thompson and her family prior to charges being filed. 

Labor and Industries’ investigation ultimately concluded that Stringer’s death was preventable and that multiple workplace violations played a role in his death. 

In July of last year, the state Department of Labor and Industries issued nearly $550,000 in fines to three companies that were on site during the collapse. 

Roughly $545,000 of those fines were issued to RES-Americas System 3 LLC, the main site contractor which was cited for eight workplace violations, and parent company RES Americas Construction Inc., which was cited for six violations. 

State regulations require trenches deeper than 4 feet to be reinforced and prohibit workers from entering unreinforced trenches without safety precautions in place to prevent the tunnels from collapsing. During interviews with Labor and Industries, Buckles, Schwarting and Thowe allegedly acknowledged that they were aware of the state’s regulations and that the tunnel that ultimately collapsed and killed Stringer was not reinforced, and allegedly admitted “it was common for workers to enter trenches to perform various tasks for the project,” according to court documents. 

DeShazer and Csizsmar both reportedly told Labor and Industries that, as longtime employees of the company, they “were aware that nobody was supposed to enter a trench greater than 4 feet in depth without some type of safety measure taken to prevent the trench walls from collapsing” and both allegedly “acknowledged that was not done in this instance.” They both also reportedly acknowledged that Stringer “had only been employed at the company for a few months,” according to court documents.  

A Labor and Industries spokesperson was unable to confirm by press deadline if citations against RES had been appealed in the State of Washington Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals. RES Americas previously told The Chronicle it planned to appeal. 

In February, a King County judge approved a settlement between Stringer’s estate, RES Americas and Weyerhaeuser Company totalling $12 million. Weyerhaeuser was named in the family’s lawsuit because the incident took place on land owned by the company. It was believed to be, at the time, “one of the largest payments for the wrongful death of a single individual” in state history, according to court documents. 

The 38-turbine, 136-megawatt capacity Skookumchuck Wind Farm, located on the Thurston-Lewis county border, went live and started producing power last November. Atlanta-based Southern Power owns a 51% stake in the wind project and TransAlta owns 49%. The project supplies energy through Puget Sound Energy’s Green Direct program and is one of the largest projects of its kind in Western Washington. 






Comments

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JustWondering

Can't help but wonder if such charges will be filed regarding the tragic death of the young man who drowned last year at the stream plant's mine.

The dredge he was operating sunk in the middle of the night.

Federal investigation showed many safety violations that contributed to the accident.

Let's hold all companies accountable if someone dies due to carelessness or safety violations.

Wonder where the prosecutors office is on this incident?

Wednesday, September 1
rusty bentwheel

Prosecutor is being nice, I think the safety team at Res should be charged as well, yeah Anthony you are just as complicit as anyone else, what about Mr Clark? lots of people told him that day ot was stupid to be working that morning, while it is nice to see some people being charged, there is a few more that should be included

Wednesday, September 1
Raymon

Regulations around trenching are very specific with little room for interpretation. Those regulations were ignored by a lot of people who were trained in them. I've no problem with some serious jail time for the defendants. Their "push" to get the job done fast regardless of any safety issues directly caused the death of a man, and that's something they and the company need to be held accountable for. I've no sympathy for any company or corporation that considers a loss of life just part of doing business. It's time to make the bas****s pay!

Wednesday, September 1
We honor his memory

With the giant 30 mile string of flashing red lights destroying the view across the face of Mt Rainier.

Wednesday, September 1
Forester59

Sadly, after this young man’s tragic death they continued the same routine. Calls continued to come in to the state and forwarded to regional managers, so perhaps more are culpable.

Wednesday, September 1
Ernesto Carrillo

Its about time they get a bit of their own medicine. They fired me on my very first wind farm project with no experience and no proper training to lock out the rotor. I almost died hanging from the top of the nose on a turbine because my team leader sent me to clean out the hub and said the rotor was locked. So I proceeded (again no proper training and no experience) connected my landyards to the rails on the nose between the two blades and felt a tug. The rotor started turning and pulled me out of the nacelle window causing me to hang there while they locked to rotor and proceeded to rescue me or of the tower. RES Americas then got everybody the next day and trained everybody on how to properly lock out the rotor and other safety classes plus gave every one locks and training certs except for me. They let Friday arrive and fired me because they said I was a liability and not proudly trained for the job. So I almost died hanging from over 300 feet in the air and ask for fired they deserve everything they are going through and more this company should get shut down for good. Prayers to Stringers family.

Friday, September 3
Thalia Melpomene

"Judge J. Andrew Toynbee set bail at $50,000 unsecured for the four codefendants who appeared in court for their hearings on Aug. 31, meaning that they can remain out of custody and do not have to pay any of the bail amount unless they miss a court hearing. Toynbee also gave them permission to travel in all 50 states"

Translated as: "Business as usual, just keep my energy stock fund rolling."

Looks like this is going to be a real tough trial. Neither the judge nor the defendants are invested in this community.

Saturday, September 4
Doty Farmer

Ernesto Carrillo, I'm glad you're OK. I hope you didn't get PTSD from that. You should sue those chumps.

Thursday, September 9