The owner of a construction company in Akron, Ohio, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter July 24 after one of his workers fell to his death in late 2017.
James D. Coon, the owner of James Coon Construction, also pleaded guilty in a county courtroom to a fourth-degree felony charge of workers’ compensation fraud, says the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) in a news release. Investigators with BWC say they found Coon lacked BWC coverage when his employee died and that he repeatedly lied about his business to minimize his premiums or avoid paying them altogether.
“This tragic case underscores the critical importance for workplace safety protocols and workers’ compensation insurance,” says BWC Administrator Stephanie McCloud. “Our investigation found Mr. Coon willfully and deliberately disregarded his responsibilities under the law, and now several lives are devastated by it.”
Gerardo “Jerry” Juarez Sr., a 39-year-old married father of five, died Nov. 4, 2017, at the scene of his fall. It was his second day on the job. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) notified BWC of the accident four days later.
According to BWC’s special investigations department, Juarez was working on a sloped roof of a three-story apartment complex without a fall protection device when he slipped and fell 25 feet. Among the investigation’s findings:
- Two other Coon employees were injured in falls prior to Juarez’s death, also during a time when Coon lacked BWC coverage.
- Coon told BWC he no longer operated his business. But in March 2018 — five months after Juarez’s death — agents observed six Coon employees at a worksite tearing shingles from a roof. They had no safety equipment.
- Coon consistently reported to BWC over the years of having no employees. A BWC audit found nearly $286,000 in payroll to employees from July 1, 2009, through July 1, 2018.
BWC says Coon owes the bureau $303,152 to date for unpaid premiums and claims costs for workers injured during a policy lapse. His conviction for involuntary manslaughter, a third-degree felony, is punishable by a maximum five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
BWC offers free safety consultations and grant dollars to assist employers in Ohio with the purchase of equipment that improves workplace safety. For more, visit bwc.ohio.gov and click on the Safety & Training link.