Hultgren Construction charged in Copper Lounge collapse

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KSFY) - UPDATED Sept. 10 9:12 p.m.

A Sioux Falls construction company has reached a plea agreement with the federal government. Hultgren Construction has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for its role in the 2016 Copper Lounge building collapse in downtown.

According to court documents, South Dakota's U.S. attorney charged Hultgren Construction Company with violating standards and regulations relating to instruction and proper training on demolition methods under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

The result was the building collapsing and the death of construction worker Ethan McMahon.

Hultgren Construction agrees they, "Did willfully violate the standards and regulations relating to instruction and training on proper demolition method." And continues with; "Employees were not sufficiently instructed in the means and methods for building and installing a temporary shoring system."

The charges in question against the company could result in a $500,000 fine and a five-year probationary period.

But, Hultgren filed for bankruptcy last year, which could make collecting the debt difficult.

Court documents state if the defendant does not have sufficient financial resources to pay the fine, it will have to release financial records, tax returns, and copies of W-2s to collect.

Attorney Michael Henderson from Swier Law Firm, who is not directly involved with this case, says this charge could potentially set a new standard for business practices across the state.

"Each case is kind of on its own merits; certainly there are very concerning violations of safety standards here set forth in the plea agreement," Henderson said. "So, certainly, it is a message that the U.S. Attorney's Office takes those safety standards very seriously."

Now, looking towards the forward, the court will begin the sentencing process.

"The court would have to accept this plea agreement U.S. attorneys office would make a recommendation, as to what an appropriate sentence would be," Henderson said.

Attorney Henderson says there will be a pre-investigation report and both parties will make their recommendations for sentencing. Then, the court will make a ruling at a later date.

The federal court still has to set a sentencing date.

Last month, there was a settlement totaling more than $4 million in a civil lawsuit regarding the collapse.

Original story:

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Dakota has charged Hultgren Construction for its role in the 2016 collapse of the former Copper Lounge building in downtown Sioux Falls.

According to court documents, the construction company is facing the charge of willful violation of the Occupational, Safety and Health Act, a misdemeanor charge, which resulted in the death of Ethan McMahon, an employee of Hultgren Construction. The collapse occurred while a 38-inch thick load-bearing wall was being removed.

The charge is punishable, up to, a maximum penalty of five years probation and a $500,000 fine.

At this time, no criminal charges have been filed against the owners of the company - Aaron Hultgren, Larry Canfield, Norm Drake and Paul Cink.

Last month, a settlement totaling more than $4 million was reached in the lawsuit.

According to court documents, Hultgren Construction will pay $2 million.
Legacy developments will pay $1 million and another million dollars will come from property insurance.

The money will be split between several parties, including the family of Emily Fodness, who was trapped in the debris, and Ethan McMahon, an employee of Hultgren who died in the collapse.