JACKSON — Jamie Mackay says he can’t get a fair trial in Teton County because he’s “a well-known public figure” and has been the subject of 36 newspaper articles in the Jackson Hole News&Guide over the past 12 years.
Mackay, a Wilson developer and owner of Fireside Resorts Inc., is being sued over the deaths of his employees Victoriano Garcia-Perez and Juan Baez-Sanchez.
The men suffocated in September 2018 after a trench they were working in collapsed.
In the wrongful death complaint, representatives of the men say Mackay was negligent and did not provide proper safeguards to prevent a trench collapse.
Mackay’s answer to the complaint claims he is not liable.
Mackay’s attorney George Santini filed a motion for transfer of trial July 29, claiming that media coverage of the case has been extensive and prejudiced.
He points to a May 29 editorial published by the News&Guide Editorial Board and a news article published in October 2018 in which Baez-Sanchez’s sister-in-law was interviewed.
“The article implies that Mackay was guilty of exploiting Mexican workers and treated them as being expendable,” his motion states.
Mackay’s motion states that he’s less likely to have a fair trial in Teton County because of his role in the community.
“Defendant Mackay is a well-known public figure in Teton County,” the motion states. “He has been involved in disputes with the town of Wilson and Teton County, which were the subject of extensive media coverage including articles in the Jackson Hole News&Guide and local radio stations.”
Mackay suggests Fremont or Sublette counties as better venues for a fair trial.
In a response to the motion the plaintiffs say there’s no reason to move the trial.
“A close examination of the publicity surrounding the early phases of this case reveals primarily fact-based reporting with mixed public comment,” the response states. “Defendant has not met his burden and this motion should be denied.”
The response, filed by attorneys Patrick Crank, Mark Aronowitz and Elisabeth Trefonas, said Mackay’s claims of being notorious in Teton County don’t prove that members of the community can’t be impartial.
“The defendant relies on only eight factual news articles to substantiate his claim that he cannot receive a fair and impartial trial in Teton County,” the response states. “The media coverage mainly provides fact-based information that in no way is inflammatory enough to dictate the opinions of the citizens and potential jurors, let alone impact their ability to provide a fair and impartial trial to the defendant.”
On Sept. 28 a delivery driver noticed an unoccupied idling excavator near 120 Indian Springs Drive and then saw the partially buried body of Baez-Sanchez, the complaint states.
It took first responders eight hours to recover the men’s bodies.
The incident is why Jackson Hole Fire/EMS is asking for a grant to purchase trench safety equipment.
“On September 28, 2018, Jackson Hole Fire/EMS, along with the Teton County Sheriff’s Office, responded to an incident where two individuals were buried in a 12-foot deep trench,” a Fire/EMS staff report to the Teton County Board of County Commissioners states. “Before it could be determined that it was a recovery, Teton County employees and volunteers took a risk and were in the trench without any protection, as there was no trench safety equipment available.”
Firefighters later attended Wyoming Department of Workforce Services trench training and an analysis confirmed additional equipment was needed.
“Having appropriate equipment on hand locally is important because there are a high number of construction sites and much associated excavation work that occurs in Teton County,” Jackson Hole Fire/EMS Chief Brady Hansen said, “with the closest trench rescue team an hour and a half away in Idaho Falls.”
An order is not yet filed regarding the request to change trial venue.
An order has not been filed in response to Mackay’s motion to dismiss the suit altogether.
The court did set discovery deadlines to plan for a summer 2020 trial.