Workplace death blamed on carbon monoxide
JACKSON — Carbon monoxide poisoning likely killed a man who worked at Chiller Ice and Matt’s Custom Meats, according to investigators.
Felipe Martinez de la Luz, 57, was found unresponsive near a running forklift March 23 at the two businesses just off of Gregory Lane.
“He was working alone in the warehouse, and all the doors were shut,” Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue said.
Further tests will confirm the cause and manner of death, Blue said, but he believes it was accidental.
The Wyoming Department of Workforce Services confirmed an Occupational Safety and Health investigation is also underway and that findings could take six months or longer.
Martinez de la Luz didn’t show up last Thursday to pick up his grandkids from school, his boss Deena Hill said. So his family went looking for him.
Hill said Martinez de la Luz wasn’t scheduled to be at work but that it was common for him to pop in and out to tackle various projects.
When Jackson Hole Fire/EMS crews responded around 5 p.m. the carbon monoxide levels were so high in the warehouse that they couldn’t be read on a detector. It just listed the reading as high, Fire Chief Brady Hansen said.
“It was off the charts for what we were able to detect,” Hansen said.
Hansen said the doors at the business were locked so family members that had gone looking for Martinez de la Luz couldn’t get in, which likely saved their lives.
“If someone had run in there they’d have succumbed too,” Hansen said.
Hill, owner of Chiller Ice, said losing Martinez de la Luz was devastating to a lot of people.
“He was a lot more than an employee,” she said. “He was a really good friend. We’re just going to miss him so much.”
Chiller Ice and Matt’s Custom Meats share a lease on Berger Lane. Martinez de la Luz had worked there for years running the plant year round for both businesses. He was a staple, and on a first name basis with most customers.
“He was my right hand man,” owner of Matt’s Custom Meats Matt Froehlich said. “He loved his job and was a really hard worker. Sometimes he’d be there at 4 a.m. if something needed to get done.”
Hill and Froehlich said Martinez de la Luz was using a forklift that was primarily used for outside work. Froehlich, who owns a second Matt’s Custom Meats location in St. Anthony, Idaho, said they’ll be getting carbon monoxide detectors for both locations.
Workplace safety at game processing plants is usually centered around heavy lifting, knives and saws, so hearing carbon monoxide poisoning was likely a factor came as a shock, Froehlich said.
The sudden and unexpected loss of Martinez de la Luz will be felt for a long time at 1665 W. Berger Lane.
“He was the backbone of the business,” Froehlich said. “I will really miss him this hunting season.”
The tragedy underscores the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and highlights the importance of having CO detectors in homes and businesses that have fuel-powered machinery or heating, Fire Marshal Kathy Clay said.
“It’s colorless and odorless,” Clay said. “You’re not going to know walking into something and that’s so important for people to understand.”
Homes and schools with fuel burning appliances are required to have carbon monoxide detectors.
Though businesses aren’t required by law to have them, Clay said, it’s a good idea. Individuals can even get detectors to wear on their lapels, she said, which she encourages for those working in garages or warehouses with gas-powered appliances.
Most detectors need to be replaced every six years, Clay said. Some false alarm calls are because a carbon monoxide detector is sounding due to its expiration.
Some common appliances that put out carbon monoxide include leaf blowers, generators, wood burning stoves, kerosene heaters and charcoal grills, Clay said.
Every year, at least 430 people die in the U.S. from accidental CO poisoning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 50,000 people in the U.S. visit emergency departments every year for CO poisoning. Headaches and flu-like symptoms are common symptoms.
Clay said people can’t be too careful when it comes to detection. She encourages homeowners and renters to check expiration dates on detectors and business owners to install detectors.
In 2015, Monica Herrera, a 47-year-old housekeeper, died of carbon monoxide poisoning while working at a Ditch Creek home. The house didn’t have monoxide detectors, investigators said at the time.
In 2001, David Williams, a North Carolina resident, died from the toxic gas while staying with his wife, Joette, at Snake River Lodge in Teton Village. Carbon monoxide, produced by a water boiler, was drawn into their room by an air conditioner, according to News&Guide archives. Two housekeeping managers also said that they suffered brain damage and depression as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning from the water boiler, which had a safety switch disabled and was located near their offices in 2001.
Clay encourages annual maintenance checks on fuel powered appliances. Chief Hansen said if a carbon monoxide detector or smoke detector is going off for what seems like no reason, it’s best to call the fire department just in case.
“I would rather go on a thousand false alarm calls than one fatality,” Hansen said.