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We Just Want To Know What Happened

ByKarol Kowalski

Feb 27, 2021

“He was a good worker. He was always there for his children and his wife and never denied a favor to anyone. ” Marisol Raygoza thus remembers her uncle, Victor Vellez, one of six workers killed last month at the Foundation Food Group’s chicken processing plant in Gainesville, Georgia , from a liquid nitrogen leak.

Vellez, a 39-year-old Mexican, and his wife Verónica had celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary on January 16, 2021. Their acquaintances say that they seemed like eternal lovers, that they had a beautiful relationship.

Like every morning for the last nine years, on January 28, Vellez said goodbye to Verónica and her two children and went to the plant, where he worked as a mechanic supervisor.

Around 10:00 in the morning, some friends who work at another plant called Veronica to tell her that there had been an accident at Foundation Food Group, the plant where her husband worked.

The first moments were of great uncertainty. An explosion was first reported and hundreds of Foundation Food Group workers were evacuated to a safe area.

It was later learned that a liquid nitrogen leak in the cooling system had killed six workers, including Vellez. 11 more were injured and sent to hospital.

Local authorities identified the other deceased as José DeJesus Elias-Cabrera, 45; Corey Alan Murphy, 35; Nelly Perez-Rafael, 28; Saulo Suarez-Bernal, 41, and Edgar Vera-Garcia, 28. Two of them are Mexican.

Demandan a compañía por muerte tras fuga de nitrógeno líquido en planta de procesamiento de aves de corral
Marisol Raygoza, Víctor Vellez’s niece, along with the family lawyer Matt Cook, during the interview she had with Telemundo Atlanta on January 28, 2021Telemundo Atlanta / Telemundo Atlanta
Since that day, Verónica and her children have trouble moving forward contemplating the void left by Victor’s death.

Jeff Talley, one of Veronica’s lawyers, explains her mood and the reason why she cannot give interviews:

“Veronica is devastated. It’s difficult for her to even go out in public. She adored him. It’s really taking a toll on him mentally and emotionally. ”

Vellez contributed most of the family’s income but, above all, according to his lawyers, he was a very present father in the day-to-day lives of his children.

[Chicken and meat plant workers fear coronavirus as much as losing their jobs]

Foundation Food Group never contacted Verónica to tell her what had happened, lawyers say. The only communication they have had with the company that owns the plant has been through the human resources office, to give the widow the salary that was owed to her husband and the vacation pay.

A lawsuit against the company that installed the refrigeration

This week, Veronica has filed a lawsuit against the company that installed the refrigeration system at the plant, Messer Group, a chemical gas company with more than 10,000 employees and dedicated to the installation and maintenance of nitrogen and other volatile gas systems. .

You have also sued the employee who installed the system. It accuses him of negligence because “he did not repair or properly shut down the system and allow it to continue to function, which left vulnerable workers at FFG (Foundation Food Group), including Victor Vellez, at risk of injury and death due to a volatile environment, with a gas without odor or color ”, according to the lawsuit to which Noticias Telemundo Investiga has had access.

The lawyers representing the family of Corey Murphy, also deceased, assure that their investigation reveals that there were complaints about the operation of the system even two days before the escape, “and, obviously, they did not solve those problems or turn off the system”, notes attorney Matt Cook.

Nitrogen makes up 78% of the air we breathe. It becomes dangerous when your oxygen level drops below 10%.

The Messer company is responsible, lawyers say, for “not properly inspecting the facility and not repairing the system or shutting it down,” and that could have contributed to the deaths of the workers.

All the evidence, according to Cook, points to the installation company and not to the owner of the chicken plant, but “that may change in the future,” he stresses.

But in addition, the attorneys have sought compensation from Foundation Food Group for damages at work, a process completely separate from the Gwinnett County court litigation against Messer Group.

Asked by Noticias Telemundo Investiga, Amy Ficon, Messer spokeswoman, replied that they regret the loss of the workers and added that Messer “is fully cooperating with the investigating authorities of the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA, in English) and the National Chemical Safety Board (CSB), who are examining this tragedy and is conducting their own investigation.

But lawyer Cook says they have not been allowed access to the plant to carry out their own investigation.

Sitting in a Gainesville office and surrounded by attorneys representing her aunt, Marisol, she demands to get to the bottom of it. “We just want to know what happened.”

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