Prosecutors Launch Investigation Into Contractor Tied to Soberanes Fire Bulldozer Death

Robert Reagan, 35, of Fresno County, died July 26, 2016, when his bulldozer overturned while trying to access a proposed fire line near Big Sur.

Robert Reagan, 35, of Fresno County, died July 26, 2016, when his bulldozer overturned while trying to access a proposed fire line near Big Sur. (Cal Fire)

State regulators are moving to bar from working in California the private contractor that employed a bulldozer operator killed in the costliest wildfire in U.S. history.

The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) announced Wednesday that Czirban Concrete Construction violated three state regulations in connection with its work on the Soberanes Fire in Monterey County.

Czirban lied about whether it had employees, the board alleges, getting around a requirement that it offer workers’ compensation insurance. The company was not permitted to be involved in firefighting, according to CSLB. Its license was solely for concrete work, not bulldozing fire lines, the agency said. And the death of the bulldozer operator, Robert Reagan, constitutes a cause for disciplinary action, CSLB spokesman Rick Lopes said.

“This is the first step toward revoking the company’s license,” Lopes said in an interview.

The board’s announcement came a day after KQED reported that California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) handed down five citations to the Madera County firm that employed Reagan, who was killed on July 26, 2016, after the bulldozer he was driving near Big Sur tipped over and pinned him to the ground.

Cal/OSHA’s investigation laid blame on Czirban for not ensuring that Reagan wear a seat belt.

The Monterey County District Attorney’s Office is investigating Czirban as well.

“We’re investigating a possible workers’ comp insurance violation against Czirban,” said Berkley Brannon, the office’s chief assistant district attorney, in an interview Thursday.

Czirban could face criminal charges, Brannon said.

Reagan left behind a wife and two young children who could be hurt by the lack of workers’ compensation.

“The fact that there’s a potential that the family wouldn’t have remedy, that’s a very serious concern to us,” Brannon said.

In its defense the company is arguing that Reagan was an employee of Cal Fire, according to Brannon.

Czirban had its license suspended eight times by the CSLB in four years for a set of violations, many of them tied to workers’ comp problems.

“It’s particularly troubling that these people had been warned and actually been caught,” Lopes said. “That’s particularly disturbing.”

Czirban Concrete Construction has not responded to several requests for comment.

The Soberanes Fire burned more than 132,000 acres last summer and fall. Investigators say it was caused by an illegal campfire.

Prosecutors Launch Investigation Into Contractor Tied to Soberanes Fire Bulldozer Death 17 March,2017Ted Goldberg

Author

Ted Goldberg

Ted Goldberg is the morning editor for KQED News. His beat areas include San Francisco politics, the city's fire department and the Bay Area's refineries.

Prior to joining KQED in 2014, Ted worked at CBS News and WCBS AM in New York and Bay City News and KCBS Radio in San Francisco. He graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio in 1998.

You can follow him at @TedrickG and reach him on email at tgoldberg@kqed.org

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