Bradley, Alan, Deanna, Nathaniel and Zachary Hogue. (Hogue family)

Pacific Topsoils pleads guilty in death of 19-year-old worker

SEATTLE — An Everett-based company has pleaded guilty to violating worker safety regulations resulting in the death of a Lake Stevens teen.

Bradley Hogue, 19, died July 7, 2014. He was crushed by rotating augers in a landscaping bark truck on his second day of a new summer job with Pacific Topsoils.

His death is the first workplace safety case to be criminally prosecuted in the state of Washington in two decades.

On Monday morning, Pacific Topsoils entered a guilty plea and was fined $100,000, the maximum penalty allowed under sentencing guidelines.

“We’ll never get Brad back,” said Deanna Hogue, Bradley’s mom. “But at least the company is being held accountable for this severe negligence.”

Bradley Hogue was breaking up landscaping bark in the back of a truck so it would feed properly into the hopper’s conveyor belt. Investigators found that the company knew employees regularly climbed into the operating heavy equipment without initiating lock-out procedures to keep it from accidentally starting.

The truck Hogue was working in was one of the oldest in the company’s fleet and maintenance records include notes about safety concerns. The only safety training workers were given was to stay at least a pitchfork’s length back from where the bark fed into the conveyor belt and augers.

On Monday, Pacific Topsoils also settled its appeal of previous citations from the state Department of Labor and Industries. In late 2014, the state fined the company $199,000 for 16 safety violations related to Bradley Hogue’s death. The company agreed to enter a guilty plea in the criminal case if the total financial penalty was capped at $200,000. Since the criminal penalty is $100,000, labor and industries is dropping its fine from $199,000 to $100,000, spokesman Tim Church said.

As part of the settlement, the company also agreed to keep a safety consultant on staff for at least two more years and to check in with the state every six months to present the changes they’ve made to improve worker safety.

“It’s very rare for workplace safety cases to end up in the criminal court,” Church said. “This case was egregious and we felt is merited consideration for criminal charges.”

Deanna Hogue hopes her son’s story is a wake-up call for companies to make the safety of their workers their top priority. The criminal case, guilty plea and maximum fine send a strong message statewide, she said.

She said it is sad that it took her son’s death to bring attention to workplace safety. “But we’ve said it over and over: we would never want another family to go through what we have,” she said.

It was an emotional morning for the Hogues but their time in front of Judge Johanna Bender went quickly, Deanna Hogue said. She and husband Alan Hogue had a chance to tell the judge about their son, a vibrant, friendly, fun-loving young man with a tight-knit family and dozens of friends who adored him.

It felt like their words made a difference, Deanna Hogue said.

It’s sad to see a family and a business in court and a life lost due to failures in safety practices, Church said. Bradley Hogue’s case has hit home for everyone involved. His family and friends lost someone special.

“It’s affected numerous people who will be impacted for the rest of their lives because of this,” he said. “It’s just a sad day.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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