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Landscaping firm pleads guilty in worker’s death in auger, fined $100,000

An Everett-based landscaping company has pleaded guilty to criminal charges in connection with the death of a 19-year-old worker who was killed in a bark-blower truck in 2014. Killed was Bradley Hogue, of Lake Stevens, who was working a summer job with Pacific Topsoils.

A representative of Pacific Topsoils entered the plea Monday morning during arraignment in King County Superior Court on a charge of violation of labor-safety regulations. Judge Johanna Bender then imposed the maximum penalty of $100,000, according to Dan Donohoe, spokesman for the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

The company on Monday also settled its appeal of a citation issued by the state Department of Labor & Industries for the incident, agreeing to pay an additional $100,000 fine.

The criminal charges alleged Pacific Topsoils “willfully and knowingly” violated health and safety laws that resulted in the July 7, 2014, death of Bradley Hogue on his second day of work while unloading bark from a blower truck.

According to charging documents, he was positioned in the back of the truck with a pitchfork to break up “tunnels” that could form as the bark moves through a conveyor belt and auger mechanism.

While Hogue was in the back of the truck, two other workers went around the side of the home and used a remote control to turn on the feeder and blower mechanism after it jammed, the documents state. The system stopped working again after a few minutes, and the two other workers called to Hogue, but he did not respond.

First responders found him tangled in the auger and rotating bars of the feeder mechanism. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

After Hogue’s death, Church said L & I found a total of 16 violations at Pacific Topsoils — 14 categorized as “serious” and two as “willful,” the most serious level of violation. Church said the company has since corrected those violations. The company was initially fined $199,000 for violations, but the amount was lowered to $100,000 as part of the settlement. The company has also agreed to keep for two years a safety consultant they hired after Hogue’s death, who will be required to report to L & I every six months.

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