Feds fault Keys construction company in worker’s drowning death after crane plunged into water

‘Because of their negligence, a young man needlessly lost his life,’ official says

A worker died in a construction accident after going into the water when a crane on a barge tipped over in Key Largo in March. (WPLG)

KEY LARGO, Fla. – A federal regulatory agency is blaming a Key Largo marine construction company for the death of one of its workers back in March, proposing fines of nearly $100,000.

Twenty-nine-year-old construction worker Jose Eduardo Reyes Ponce, of Homestead, died on March 21 when a crane he was working on fell off a barge while working on a project behind a home on Key Largo’s Mutiny Place.

He was working for Upper Keys Marine Construction LLC, which describes itself as “the leading provider of marine construction in the Florida Keys for over 50 years.”

Officials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said in a news release that the company “failed to follow federal safety requirements,” leading to Ponce’s death.

“Employees of Upper Keys Marine Construction LLC were installing a piling foundation for a residential boat lift when the crane tipped over and fell into the water,” the agency stated. “The employee, who was inappropriately tasked to ride the load of the crane, became pinned under the crane’s hammer and drowned.”

The news release states OSHA found that the company:

  • Permitted workers to conduct pile-driving operations from a boat dock without approved buoyant vests.
  • Failed to have a lifesaving skiff immediately available during offshore operations.
  • Permitted an uncertified crane operator to operate the equipment.
  • Failed to comply with the crane manufacturer’s stability and load capacity for the crane.
  • Permitted workers to ride the load attached to the boom of a crane during pile-driving operations.
  • Operated a crane that was not physically secured to the barge.

OSHA issued Upper Keys Marine Construction nine “serious” citations and proposed $92,191 in penalties.

“This tragedy was completely preventable if the company had met their responsibility and followed federal requirements,” Condell Eastmond, who works as a director in the agency’s Fort Lauderdale office, said in the news release. “Because of their negligence, a young man needlessly lost his life, and his loved ones are now left to grieve their loss.”

Local 10 News has contacted Upper Keys Marine Construction seeking comment Wednesday and has not heard back.

According to OSHA, the company can contest the findings.

OSHA letter to company with proposed penalties:

About the Authors:

Chris Gothner joined the Local 10 News team in 2022 as a Digital Journalist.

Janine Stanwood joined Local 10 News in February 2004 as an assignment editor. She is now a general assignment reporter. Before moving to South Florida from her Washington home, Janine was the senior legislative correspondent for a United States senator on Capitol Hill.