The Gatlinburg, Tenn., wastewater treatment plant has had a third worker fatality in less than a year after an earthen wall collapse killed a demolition worker Feb. 23
The identity of the victim was confirmed as Michael “Mike” Eugene Wells, 58, of Candler, N.C., an employee of Roberson Inc. of Enka, N.C. The confirmation was from Brad Searson, an Asheville, N.C., attorney who has been hired by Marjorie Mae Wells, the worker’s widow.
Wells “was struck from behind with dirt and rock and received fatal wounds,” according to a statement issued by the City of Gatlinburg after the incident. He was removed from the site by Gatlinburg Fire Department workers and taken to LeConte Medical Center in nearby Sevierville.
NEO Corp. of Canton, N.C., has been working since January to demolish the equalization basin, where a wall collapsed last April 5, killing two plant workers and sending 2 million gallons of sewage into the Little Pigeon River.
Company officials have been tight-lipped on the matter. President Todd Escaravage was not available Feb. 24 or Feb. 27 and John A. Hepler, vice president, was also reticent, but issued a brief statement that said “… an equipment operator performing work for NEO Corp. at the City of Gatlinburg’s Wastewater Treatment Plant incurred an injury which has resulted in a fatality during demolition activities on the Equalization Basin.”
It could not be confirmed if Wells was operating any equipment at the time of the incident.
NEO is “working diligently with all local, state, federal officials and his employer to determine the cause of this tragedy,” the statement said.
NEO won the $96,100 demolition contract in December and was scheduled to complete the job by March 22. It is not known if that timetable will be extended.
The firm has had no workplace safety incidents in Tennessee, but has had some citations and paid about $1,300 in fines between 1994 and 2006. Those inspection citations in North Carolina and South Carolina listed issues involving respiratory protection, power-operated tools, excavation protection, guarding machines, listing and educating about hazardous chemicals and exposure to blood-borne pathogens.
Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health investigators were on site soon after the incident. They usually issue a report in six to eight weeks, though a workplace fatality sometimes extends that time, spokesman Jeff Hentschel said.