DA charges East Bay landscape owner in death of employee killed by tree stump grinder
Contra Costa County prosecutors are charging a landscaping company owner with improperly training a worker who was killed by the cutting wheel of a tree stump grinder during a job in 2018.
Segundo Collazos, who owns Amazon’s Landscaping Co. in Concord, is charged with two felony counts of violating labor standards by causing the death of an employee, Manuel Peralta, a 68-year-old Antioch resident.
The charges allege Collazos didn’t train Peralta to safely handle the rented Dosko Stump and Root Grinder, a high-powered machine that chops tree stumps and roots into tiny pieces.
Collazos is also accused of not warning Peralta to avoid working in the “danger zone” of the grinder’s cutting wheel, which led to a rope around Peralta’s body becoming entangled in the wheel and pulling him into its striking range.
In charging Collazos, the district attorney’s office followed the recommendation of the state Department of Industrial Relations, or Cal/OSHA.
The state agency’s citation alleges that as Collazos was operating the grinder from behind the wheel, Peralta stood in front of it and used his body weight to hold the spinning blades onto a sycamore tree stump.
At the time, Collazos’ state-issued contractors license had been suspended because of a debt and he was not allowed to do contract work. His license has since been revoked.
Reached by phone on Thursday, Collazos said he and Peralta had been business partners for 18 years and Peralta was formerly married to his niece. Collazos said he was innocent of the charges, explaining he had told Peralta how to use the stump grinder but Peralta had not understood his directions.
Collazos said he saw Peralta being killed by the machine, a sight that has severely traumatized and depressed him ever since and led him to seek counseling.
“He was my best friend,” Collazos said. “Manuel did a mistake when he slid into the machine. I’m innocent.”
Amazon’s Lanscaping Company now faces $54,000 in fines from Cal/OSHA, which found it had not implemented an injury prevention program that would have warned of the dangers associated with handling a stump grinder.
Asked why prosecutors decided to press charges, Deputy District Attorney Ryan Morris said in an interview, “Employers need to realize these laws are in place for a reason, and that if a worker was killed on the job due to insufficient training or … unsafe handling of heavy equipment, that the employer could be held responsible under the law.”