The case is among the first to be prosecuted under a new state law that lets authorities file felony charges for worker safety violations.
Merced County prosecutors have used that law to charge Patrick J. Faria, a former owner of the dairy and Alcino Sousa Nunes, the farm’s foreman, for the February 2001 deaths, according to the Associated Press. Enrique Araisa, 29, was overcome by gases as he tried to fix a pump in a large concrete waste pipe. He fell into a pool of liquid manure and drowned. Jose Alatorre, 22, fainted and fell into the waste while attempting a rescue.
One of the workers was tethered to a rope, but no other safety codes were followed, prosecutors said. The workers at the Aquiar-Faria & Sons dairy were not provided proper training or respiratory equipment and the air in the pipe was not tested before they entered the confined space, according to the indictment, which was issued in February, according to the report.
In addition to refusing to dismiss the charges, the judge also told prosecutors to reduce 20 worker safety allegations to one count.
State regulators say inspections and education efforts were increased following a third manure pit death in August 2002. The report said there have only been three deaths in manure pits on California dairy farms in the last decade.