Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the arrest of Luke Park, owner of the Park Family Farm located in Homer, New York, for multiple alleged Penal Law and Labor Law violations related to the death of 14-year-old Alex Smith. According to the felony complaint filed by the Attorney General’s Office, on July 1, 2015 the boy died when he was allegedly operating a New Holland LS170 Skidloader with a hydraulic lift and fork attachment. Child labor laws explicitly prohibit the operation of such equipment by minors.
The minor was operating the equipment in an attempt to prepare bales of hay for cow feed on the farm located at or near 3036 East River Road in Homer, New York. The defendant, Luke Park, admitted to the State Police that he found the boy’s body pinned underneath the hydraulic lift and bale of hay, with the engine of the Skidloader still running. The medical examiner’s autopsy concluded that the chest and abdomen were crushed resulting in his death by mechanical asphyxiation.
Park was arraigned this afternoon before Judge William J. Foley of the Homer Town Court on 8 felony counts of Falsifying Business Records and Filing False Unemployment Insurance Contribution Returns with the State and 7 misdemeanor counts including Endangering the Welfare of a Child, Illegal Hours of Work for Minors, Prohibited Employment of Minors, and the Willful Failure to Pay Unemployment Insurance Contributions.
Park was release on personal recognizance and his next court date is scheduled for August 16thin Homer.
“Child labor laws were enacted to protect the safety of our children and to avoid terrible yet foreseeable tragedies like the one alleged in this case,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Adults have a responsibility to protect our children, and when an employer places a minor in harm’s way, that employer will be held responsible and prosecuted.”
“Tragic cases like this one serve as a stark reminder that child labor laws are in place for a very good reason,” said State Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon. “Minors should never be exploited or placed in harm’s way at work. It’s imperative that those who endanger children are exposed and brought to justice.”
In addition to the child safety violations, the felony complaint also alleges Mr. Park employed other minors on his dairy farm and required them to work approximately 60 hours a week which exceeds the 48 hour per week maximum for 16 and 17 year olds when school is not in session. Records also revealed that many employees were allegedly paid off-the-books, resulting in an underpayment in unemployment insurance contributions amounting to over $9,000.
New York’s Child Labor Laws set forth strict guidelines regarding the employment of minors, including limitations on minors operating dangerous equipment or performing hazardous work, as well as limitations on minors’ working hours in order to ensure that a child’s education is not interfered with by burdensome working hours. Detailed information regarding New York’s child labor laws may be found at https://labor.ny.gov/
According to the Center for Disease Control, agriculture ranks among the most hazardous of industries. Farmers are at a very high risk for fatal and nonfatal injuries. 1n 2012, 374 farm workers died from a work-related injury, resulting in a fatality rate of 20.2 deaths per hundred thousand workers. In 2014, as an industry sector, farming, fishing and forestry had the highest rate of fatal occupational injuries at 25.6 per 100,000 workers, far exceeding the next highest rate of 14.1 per 100,000 workers in the transportation/warehousing sector.
The CDC also reports that on average 113 youth less than 20 years of age die annually from farm-related injuries, with most of these deaths occurring to youth 16-19 years of age. Machinery is the leading source of farm related fatal injuries to youth. In New York State in 2013, 20.4 percent of all fatalities in the farming, fishing and forestry sector were youth less than 20 years of age. This was twice the national average.
The case was investigated by Attorney General Investigators Andrew Buttenschon, Mark Rudd, and Deputy Chief Investigator Jonathan Wood. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Michael Brown of the Binghamton Regional Office and Labor Bureau Criminal Section Chief Richard Balletta, with the assistance of Stephanie Swenton, the Deputy Bureau Chief of the Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau. The case is being supervised by Bureau Chief of the Labor Bureau Terri Gerstein, Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Alvin Bragg, Executive Deputy Attorney General for Regional Offices Martin J. Mack, and Executive Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice Kelly Donovan.
The Attorney General’s Office thanks the New York State Department of Labor for their partnership on this case.
All charges are accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.