The dead, all employees of Foundation Food Group in Gainesville, were identified as Jose DeJesus Elias-Cabrera, 45; Corey Alan Murphy, 35; Nelly Perez-Rafael, 28; Saulo Suarez-Bernal, 41; Victor Vellez, 38; and Edgar Vera-Garcia, 28, the Hall County Sheriff’s Office announced.
Four of the victims lived in Gainesville, while Murphy and Suarez-Bernal were from the nearby towns of Clermont and Dawsonville, respectively. Perez-Rafael was the only woman among the victims.
There was no immediate cause of death listed for the six, pending autopsies performed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the sheriff said.
The cause of Thursday’s deadly workplace incident, about 60 miles northeast of Atlanta, is being investigated by the sheriff’s office, the fire department and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, officials said.
Five of the victims were pronounced dead at the scene, according to authorities. The sixth victim, one of 12 people rushed to Northeast Georgia Medical Center, died at the hospital.
Four people were still there by midday Friday, a hospital spokeswoman said. Three were in critical condition and one was listed as fair, according to the official.
While Foundation Food Group Vice President Nicholas Ancrum declined to discuss the cause of the accident in detail on Thursday, he said “preliminary indications are that a nitrogen line ruptured inside the facility.”
Poultry plants use refrigeration systems that often include liquid nitrogen, which vaporizes into an odorless gas capable of displacing oxygen when leaked.
- OSHA opened a Dec. 10, 2020, safety probe that remains active and available records don’t detail the issues at hand.
- A May 26 referral, involving a potential amputation threat, was closed on Nov. 20 with no apparent penalties, records showed.
- Prime Pak agreed to pay $3,750 on Oct. 17, 2019, for failure to provide proper eye and face protection to workers.
- The company in 2018 agreed to settle with OSHA for $12,548 over a July 6, 2017, incident in which an employee lost a pinky and ring fingers when he “removed the guard from the cuber to clear a jam and had his left hand pulled into it,” according to OSHA records.
- Prime Pak was originally fined $25,097 but ultimately didn’t have to pay OSHA for an April 6, 2017, incident when an employee lost at least three fingers in a meat-mixer accident, records showed.
A Foundation Food Group spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment on Friday.
Newly elected U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., who courted Latino voters in his upset victory earlier this month, pledged to “help the workers, their families, and the Gainesville community heal.”
“My prayers and sympathies are with the families of those who lost loved ones and the people who were harmed today in this awful incident,” he said in a statement Thursday night.
Suzanne Gamboa contributed.