Jackson Hole, WY News

Dangerous working conditions are being blamed after two Mexican men suffocated Friday morning in a trench cave-in in the tony Indian Springs Ranch neighborhood.

The trench they were digging may have collapsed hours before a passer-by noticed an idling piece of heavy equipment and called for help.

Juan Baez-Sanchez, 42, and Victoriano Garcia-Perez, 56, were apparently alone on the job site at 120 S. Indian Springs Drive. Law enforcement found a lack of safety precautions in their initial investigation of the residential construction site in the gated community, and an investigation is now underway by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“It seems throughout our investigation that proper precautions were not in place,” Teton County Undersheriff Matt Carr said.

There was no shoring in the trench, which was 12 to 15 feet deep and 4 feet wide, Carr said. Jackson Hole Fire/EMS workers shored up the trench walls during the eight-hour recovery effort.

The men died from compression asphyxiation, Teton County Coroner Brent Blue found, and although the manner was accidental, he said the lack of safety shoring of the trench walls was a contributing factor.

The collapse is not being treated as a crime at this time and no charges have been filed.

“We have no criminal investigation underway or anything,” Sgt. Todd Stanyon said.

Yet the families of the deceased believe the owner of the property, Jamie Mackay, employed the two men and cut corners that cost them their lives.

“They look at us like we’re just Mexican people, we mean nothing to no one,” said Isabel Baez, Baez-Sanchez’s sister-in-law.

Mackay, a Wilson developer, issued a statement but did not respond to questions, including whether the men were working for him.

“I am deeply saddened by the loss of life, and express my sincere sympathies to the families of the two workers,” Mackay said in an email. “I have cooperated with the authorities involved, and will continue to do so as we try to understand what happened.”

OSHA’s investigation could take more than a month.

“We don’t have any more information right now because it’s so early on in the investigation,” said Ty Stockton, Wyoming Department of Workforce Services communications manager. It’s agency policy not to comment on active investigations.

An OSHA fact sheet on trenching and excavation safety says trench collapses cause “dozens of fatalities and hundreds of injuries each year” and that trenches deeper than 5 feet require a “protective system unless the excavation is made entirely of stable rock.” Protective systems can include sloping, shoring or shielding.

OSHA standards require that trenches be inspected daily because conditions can change, and say they should be evaluated by a “competent person” before workers enter.

Supported families in Mexico

Baez-Sanchez’s family members painted a picture of a hardworking family man who shouldn’t have died that way. He is survived by a wife and two daughters, 9 and 14 years old. His family lives in Mexico, and he sent money to them regularly.

“He built them a beautiful home in Mexico,” sister-in-law Baez said. “And he stayed behind to continue to support them. He was planning on leaving next year; he was here for so many years. That was his wish, to have accumulated enough money. He was planning on opening up his own business.”

Baez lives in Idaho Falls. She’s been video-chatting with her brother-in-law’s family and said the distance made his death harder to process.

“We can sit here and touch him and they can’t,” Baez said. “The way they were crying was really heartbreaking.”

She’ll remember her brother-in-law as someone who loved to play soccer and basketball. He also loved to dance.

Baez-Sanchez mostly worked as a landscaper for the past 15 years.

Although deputies said they didn’t know who Baez-Sanchez and Garcia-Perez were working for at the time of the accident, Baez said she thought he was working for Mackay.

“Someone had told him to do this job,” she said. “He didn’t know codes, he didn’t know regulations. He was just doing the job he was told to do. Jamie was just cutting corners and it cost him his life. There is no price on a life.”

She wants Mackay to apologize and pay for both men’s funeral services and the cost to send them home to Mexico. In the absence of that so far, Baez is in the process of setting up a GoFundMe page for those costs and to support Baez-Sanchez’s two daughters.

“All we want is for them to send him home and take care of everything because they would still be here if he had taken safety precautions,” Baez said. “How dare you sit there and act like his life meant nothing.”

She’s upset with what feels like exploitation and said that Mexican workers are often assumed to not know legalities and not be able to sue if something goes wrong. They shouldn’t be seen as expendable, she said.

“That has to stop,” Baez said. “More people have to come forward.”

Marco Antonio Garcia-Perez, Victoriano’s nephew who lives in Jackson, said his uncle arrived here around 2006. He remembers him as a hardworking man whose priority was supporting his family in Mexico.

“He wasn’t content around the house not doing anything,” the younger Garcia-Perez said in Spanish. “He always, more than anything, dedicated himself to his work.”

He said he saw his uncle continue working after a knee injury, and that he would find a way to work elsewhere when a job took a break.

Putting together the pieces

An abandoned excavator tipped off a delivery driver that something was wrong Friday afternoon at the site. The trench was being dug to put in a drainage pipe, and the two men were the only workers at the site at the time of the collapse.

According to deputies the driver discovered the excavator, still running with nobody around, and then saw Baez-Sanchez partially buried.

The Teton County Sheriff’s Office was notified by dispatch of a trench collapse at approximately 3:03 p.m. Friday. EMS personnel were first on the scene at 3:13 p.m. and found Baez-Sanchez dead.

In the process of digging out Baez-Sanchez, Garcia-Perez was found at 5:25 p.m. Garcia-Perez was found beneath Baez-Sanchez.

The last responding units left the scene at 11:16 p.m. after ensuring there were no additional victims.

Family members are trying to piece together the puzzle from phone messages. Baez thinks the accident happened in the morning.

“We know that it happened before lunch,” Baez said. “Their lunch boxes were still intact.”

Baez said the positioning of the bodies makes sense, and that she believes her brother-in-law jumped in to save his coworker.

“He died trying to save him,” she said. “He could have let his friend die and gone to call for help. He could have let that happen. But he wasn’t that kind of person. He would give the shirt off his back if he had to. He was that person.”

There will be a viewing for both men today and Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Valley Mortuary. Baez feels responsible for helping Garcia-Perez get to his final resting place.

“They died together, we’re going to bury them together,” she said. “That means we have to raise double the money, but we can’t leave Victoriano. We won’t leave him out of the loop. We will help.”

—Allie Gross contributed to this article.

— This story has been corrected. The story mistakenly listed a company as a potential employer of the two men, the company said the men were not employed by them. — Ed.

Contact Kylie Mohr at 732-7079, schools@jhnewsandguide.com or @JHNGschools.

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(10) comments

rich quinlan

The general contractor / permit holder , is solely responsible for every issue on this site . Ignorance is no excuse for responsibility. If you are hiring subs with little experience , unlicensed , or working as laborers for you , you are responsible. Excavation 101 is safety first. These two men are gone due to a major judgement error. If there was no shoring present on site its obvious they were not experienced , hired by someone who did not do any investigation prior to hiring . I was a General contractor for 15 years in another state and there is no excuse for this tragedy. We go to work every day and safety should be ingrained in each employee and operation.

Rick Bell

Shady companies cutting corners, hiring illegals should be run out of business. The Rich building these million dollar homes can afford to pay more for respectable companies that don't cut safety corners and hire experienced workers.

William Addeo

I din't think it is fair to make statements like that without the facts.

William Addeo

Slow down everybody; "Deputies said they did't know who Baez-Sanchez and Garcia-Perez were working for at the time of the accident." This is exactly how Kavanaugh is wrongly being treated. We used to wait till the facts came out before making judgements. Now, accusations are leveled and the accused has to defend themselves? That's garbage justice. In America, you are never proven innocent. You are proven guilty, or not guilty. You can never prove innocence after the investigation. There is a difference. As far as the ditch goes, who knows? Right now, nobody knows so let's slow down. I have been digging ditches for 50 years with machinery. I had the ground under a 60 track-hoe sink and we lost the machine. Sub-contractors, day workers, union workers, government workers, licensed operators and new faces on the jobs every single day. Accidents happen and it is the nature of the business as the article states and that's horrible, to say the least. Everybody in construction knows that it is impossible to do everything without someone eventually getting hurt. Construction is the most dangerous job in the world. Still, two men died. Having said that, it's time to help those in need and to pray for the two men and their families and friends. The first thing we should be saying is; How can we help those in need right now. Let the authorities do their jobs and let's do ours which is to be a wonderful compassionate neighbors and help those that are in so much pain.
May God Bless Everyone.......................

Michael Grasseschi

Thank you, William...
Yes I do agree: we are all (me and you included, lol) too quick to judge these days..
And I often urge the same: slow down until we know ( if we ever do) the truth...

Dave Dunlap

thank you Kylie for doing this story. I have been in construction for over 30 years and been in plenty of sketchy ditches. Any ditch in this country that is 12 - 15 feet deep needs to be 12 - 15 feet wide or have adequate trench boxes in place. Also Should of had more people on hand to monitor the walls. These guys were probably not trained and the contractor should of had qualified personnel on site. These 2 men didnt deserve this!!! more coverage please, Kylie.

William Addeo

Did you ever think that maybe they were just stating to dig the ditch? You have to dig it before you shore it up. Let's not judge till we know the facts.

David Cargill

I'll bet dollars to donuts ... if McKay was in the trench it would have shored up.

Esther Judge-Lennox

I’m so sorry to the families who are suffering from this loss. Isabel, good job for standing up for your rights and speaking your mind about inequality. Situations like this must be spoken about as responsibility must be taken for the loss of these men’s life. My heart goes to these families.

Michael Ganey

It’s so sad but so true, people often take GUI advantage of illegal immigrants and doing so put them into positions of danger, and worst of all is they will do it only to make a few dollars most of witch is sent back to there home land and to the families they left behind.
To the families, I’m sorry for your loss!

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