4 Investigates: Safety concerns at Eagle Rock Convenience Center
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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It was a routine trip to a city dump that one man said changed the course of his life in June 2019.
Four years later, injuries caused by an accident at the Eagle Rock Convenience Center have gotten worse.
Quality time looks a little different these days for Lawrence Gonzales and his son Eugene. A master landscaper, he’s doing way more sitting and sifting through piles of medical documents.
June 2019 is when everything changed. A trip to the Eagle Rock Convenience Center was common, for Gonzales, who has worked manual labor his whole life.
“His whole background is just work, work, work, landscaping, manual labor,” said Eugene Gonzales.
No surprise he was unloading branches and bush trimmings in 2019. Surveillance video captured him wearing a dark-colored shirt.
“When he had told me about everything that was going on I couldn’t, it wasn’t as intense as it was when I saw the video,” said Eugene Gonzales.
As Lawrence dumps his trimmings, a loader drives by, it grabs his trimmings and pulls him into the waste pit.
“He was pretty pale, he looked pretty bad, he was crying in pain,” said Gonzales.
Another camera angle shows his head landing dangerously close to a wheel. Initially, Gonzales and his family thought the injuries were minor until the pain got worse.
“I’ve never seen my dad that bad. That much in pain or anything, the swelling, just how banged up he was,” said Eugene Gonzales.
And then everything else started to unravel. Gonzales was fired from his job since he couldn’t perform the same tasks. He lost his living space on the property of the business he worked for.
Depression and more health issues followed.
“It’s tough. It bugs me a lot, like emotionally,” said Eugene.
The Gonzales family hired an attorney to sue the city and the employee saying both failed in their responsibility to keep people safe.
Around the same time another lawsuit was filed against the same city employee who drove the loader that hit Gonzales.
A second incident at the same facility injured another man just three months before Gonzales’ accident.
The city didn’t have video, and photos don’t show what was described in court documents.
According to the lawsuit, the city employee, driving the same loader, backed out of the garage and hit another customer. That case is still unresolved.
We’ve requested documents from the city about the driver working that day.
We wanted to know if there were other incidents or was it just these two and what happened as a result of them. The city says its working to gather that information, we’re going on two months.
But it’s not just customers who’ve sued over this, the loader driver filed his own lawsuit, claiming he alerted the city to serious safety concerns at that facility, but he was ignored.
The employee recalls specifically telling the city it needed to install safety barriers. Something that still hasn’t happened four years later. The city refused to talk about safety upgrades since then.
But we did notice some warning honks when the loader passed by those bays. As well as additional signage that seemed to show exactly what happened to Gonzales.
“Just waiting and waiting, it’s just too much. Four years is way too long,” said Gonzales.
Their case hasn’t gone anywhere.
“It’s stressful. It stresses me out like crazy,” he said.
While they wait, those daily tasks get harder and harder. They’re slowly losing any hope they once had of getting help they believe they deserve.
The city sent us a the following statement:
“The City of Albuquerque Solid Waste Management Department (SWMD) cannot comment on pending litigation. SWMD is continually working to ensure the safety of its employees and customers.”
Folks with the Solid Waste Management Department told us that employee, who was driving the loader, is no longer with the city.