A vineyard management company will pay $200,000 in fines and restitution for removing a safety device on a tractor that resulted in the death of one of its workers.
Lodi-based Vino Farms Inc. agreed to the fines Thursday as part of a Sonoma County court settlement that also resulted in a 30-day jail sentence for a company manager, James Poole, 61, of Windsor. He also was ordered to do 80 hours of community service.
Poole pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor violation of the Labor Code that prohibits removal of a manufacturer's safety device.
In this case the “kill switch,” which causes the tractor's engine to stop running and moving forward when the driver leaves the seat, was removed.
Prosecutors said the victim, Jose Antonio Ambriz-Luquin, 37, of Windsor was working alone at a vineyard off Piner Road in Santa Rosa on Jan. 22, 2011 when he tried to get out of the tractor's narrow opening and his clothing got caught.
Without the kill switch operating, the tractor rolled over him, pinning him beneath it.
He was found the next morning, but died several days later from injuries sustained in the accident.
Prosecutor Ann Gallagher White said the safety device had been removed on several of the company's tractors because workers were complaining that it made their seats too hot.
She said that when the accident happened, Ambriz-Luquin was apparently trying to clean out a mechanism on the tractor used to spray herbicide on the vines.
The tractor ran over him, but “if the kill switch had been there, the tractor would have stopped once he got out of the seat,” she said.
An investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined Poole had ordered the safety device removed from the seat.
Defense attorney Chris Andrian, who represented Poole, said the kill switch was removed because “the seats got so hot, no one could ride them (the tractors).”