October 22, 2021

Farmer sentenced

Jacob DeRochie/contributing photographer

Luke Park looks across a courtroom in Cortland County Courthouse on Thursday during his sentencing for labor law violations related to the death of a 14-year old boy who was working on his farm in 2015.

Vicky Smith hasn’t driven past Park Family Farm on East River Road in Homer since her 14-year-old son, Alex Smith, died there in a work-related accident in July 2015.

“I hope I never have to,” she said. She’s just trying to keep Alex’s memory alive.

“We talk about Alex a lot,” she said. “He loved the outside and being out on the farm. He had planned to own a farm one day with a friend.”

Park farm owner Luke Park was sentenced Thursday to three concurrent periods of 60 days in jail to be served 9 p.m. Sundays to 4 a.m. Tuesdays, plus three years probation in Alex Smith’s death. He pleaded guilty in September to three misdemeanors: endangering the welfare of a child; willful failure to pay a contribution to the unemployment insurance fund; and prohibited employment of a minor.

The charges Park faced were reinstated in July after Cortland County Court dismissed them in 2017, a little over two years after Smith died. Park was charged with eight felonies and two misdemeanors including multiple counts of falsifying business records and filing false unemployment insurance contribution returns, endangering the welfare of a child, illegal hours of work for minors, prohibited employment of minors and willful failure to pay unemployment contributions.

Park admitted that Alex Smith died while operating a New Holland LS170 skidloader with a hydraulic lift and fork attachment — which is prohibited by child labor laws — in an attempt to prepare bales of hay for cow feed, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

Park found the boy’s body pinned between the hydraulic lift and a bale of hay, with the engine of the skid loader still running. Park and Alex Smith’s dad, V. Mark Smith, who lives next door to the farm were walking by when they discovered the body.

Park also admitted he employed other minors on his dairy farm and required them to work approximately 60 hours a week, which exceeds the 48-hour weekly maximum for 16- and 17-year-olds when school is not in session. He also told the court that most of his employees are paid off the books, resulting in a $10,500 underpayment in unemployment insurance contributions, which he must pay back, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

In court, Park’s lawyer Paul Carey said Park does not go to sleep every night without thinking about the accident.
“Alex was part of our family,” Park said. “I’m terribly sorry anything like this happened.”

Cortland County Court Judge Julie A. Campbell said Alex loved farming, but that farming was one of the most dangerous jobs a person could have.

“Being at the farm gave him a sense of pride,” Campbell said.

In a statement to the court, V. Mark Smith said he believed his son’s death was an accident and would not seek restitution.
However, Vicky Smith expressed concerns that Alex’s death may not have been an accident.

She was seeking restitution, including restitution for emotional damages. However, restitution is not covered under the law for criminal cases in New York, Campbell said.

Campbell noted the family was awarded workers’ compensation and that Park had also given them money, although no amount was disclosed.