Samantha House. From Syracuse.com. Posted on July 13, 2016. Original article.
When his boss found him, Alex Smith was pinned under a bale of hay and a hydraulic lift bucket.
The 14-year-old boy had been preparing bales of hay to feed cows on July 1, 2015 at the Park Family Farm in Homer when the accident happened.
Smith was crushed and killed. Farm owner Luke Park told the New York State Police that when he found the Smith’s body, the engine of the New Holland LS170 Skid Loader the boy had been operating was still running, reported state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.
The lift bucket on the skid loader itself weighs between 300 and 500 pounds depending the model, according to a New Holland website. Hay bales can vary greatly in weight, from as little as less than 100 pounds to more than 1,500 pounds depending on the size and density of hay, according to the various state Cooperative Extension offices.
A year later, Park has been charged with violating child labor laws in connection to Smith’s death.
Park was arrested this week and charged with violating labor laws and falsifying business records. He is accused of letting Smith use a machine with a hydraulic lift and fork attachment — equipment state law “explicitly” prohibits minors from using, Schneiderman said.
“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,” he said. “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.”
In addition to charges related to Smith’s death, the state accused Park of committing other labor law violations.
Park is accused of requiring minors who worked at his dairy farm to work 60 hours a week, Schneiderman said. State law prohibits 16 and 17 year olds from working more than 48 hours when school is out of session.
Investigators reviewed the farm’s records and learned “many” employees were paid off-the-books, Schneiderman said. The state has charged Park with underpaying his unemployment insurance contributions by over $9,000.
Park was charged with eight counts of falsifying business records and filing false unemployment insurance contribution returns with the state, all felonies. He was also charged with 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, all misdemeanors.
Park was arraigned in Homer Town Court and released. He is scheduled to reappear in court on Aug. 16.
The state Department of Labor assisted with the investigation. State Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said in a news release that the case was reminder that child labor laws exist “for a very good reason.”
According to an obituary posted on X101 Always Classic, Smith loved farming, fireworks and outdoor sports. He would’ve been a freshman at Homer High School.