A Lewis County Superior Court judge has dismissed all charges against four of the five codefendants accused of being involved in the death of a Chehalis man who died in January 2020 when a trench collapsed during construction of the Skookumchuck Wind Farm.
Kenneth P. DeShazer, 51, of Los Angeles, was the only one of the five codefendants whose case was not dismissed on Wednesday. He is facing one count of first-degree manslaughter.
The cases against the other four codefendants — site manager Kurt Schwarting, 46, of Bakersfield, California; site foreman Matt Buckles, 43, of Edmond, Oklahoma; site supervisor Joel A. Thome, 32, of West Lowville, New York; and worker Paul S. Csizsmar, 25, of Brantingham, New York — were dismissed after Schwarting’s attorney, Cooper Offenbecher, filed a motion of dismissal in December arguing that the second-degree murder charge against his client was misplaced because DeShazer was solely responsible for the death of 24-year-old Jonathan F. Stringer on Jan. 9, 2020.
Offenbecher argued DeShazer “violated company policy and the explicit instructions of his supervisors” by entering a 12-foot deep trench that partially collapsed on top of him, leading Stringer and Csizsmar to enter the trench in an attempt to rescue him.
“I told John (Stringer) to get out of the trench, and he said ‘No,’” said DeShazer in an interview that was quoted in the court documents. “He goes, ‘I’m not letting you’ — he goes ‘If you’re going, I’m going,’ and then he goes ‘I’m going to save you.’ That’s his exact words … that’s when it caved in on top of him.”
Stringer, DeShazer and Csizsmar were all 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.
While prosecutors argued the other codefendants were responsible for the trench collapse because the trench was not reinforced to accommodate people entering it, Offenbecher argued that all parties on the construction site the day of Stringer’s death understood no one was supposed to enter the trench.
DeShazer allegedly decided to enter the trench after a boring pipe became stuck, according to court documents.
“Here, the state has charged a number of individuals, seeking justice and closure for the death of a young man. But as this court knows, many wrongful, accidental tragedies resulting in death do not meet the standard for a criminal homicide prosecution. This is such a case,” said Offenbecher in a written argument, adding that DeShazer’s case is the only one where state prosecutors had enough evidence to allege the defendant acted in a way that led to the victim’s death.
Judge James Lawler ordered Schwarting’s, Buckles’, Thome’s and Csizsmar’s cases to be dismissed without prejudice on Jan. 19.
DeShazer’s trial has been scheduled for March 14, 2022, with a trial confirmation hearing scheduled for March 10.