Widow makes serious allegations against paper plant after contractor's death
CATAWBA, SC (WBTV) - The wife of a man killed in a paper plant accident in York County is making serious allegations about what happened inside the plant.
39-year-old Samir Storey, of Monroe, was killed last week during an early morning accident at the Resolute Forest Products plant in Catawba. It's the old "Bowater" plant along Highway 5 near the Lancaster County border.
During a press conference Tuesday morning, Storey's wife, Jessica sobbed as she spoke about losing her husband.
"We're empty," said Storey. "I feel crippled. Crippled without him."
Jessica and Samir had three children together. She said the family is traumatized.
"I feel like there was no value in his life. No one tried to help him. No one tried to save him," said Storey.
Samir worked with his cousin, Jermel Storey. They were contractors, and last Tuesday was their first day on the job. Jermel says the training video was quick, and the test that followed seemed like a formality.
"The instructor read every question and gave us every answer to the test," said Jermel.
He also said his mask didn't work properly during orientation, but a supervisor told him it was fine.
About halfway through their shift, Samir was working inside a 40-foot tank, suspended on a harness. An alarm went off.
"We saw some stuff pouring out the side of the tank. My cousin, he screamed, 'AAAH!' The first guy ran and got out. The second guy, we were tussling with him, and we pulled him out. As soon as we pulled him out, the door shut," said Storey.
Samir was trapped inside the tank. His cousin ran for help.
"I'm calling my family as I'm running down the steps. I'm telling the safety guys, 'My cousin's stuck in the tank!' Nobody showed concern," said Storey.
After getting a frantic call from Jermel, Jessica rushed to the plant. When she arrived, she saw her husband dangling inside the tank.
"I kept calling his name, just saying, 'Samir, just tell me you're ok.'"
She says the ambulance was still parked outside the gate. No one was helping her husband.
Storey's attorney, Christopher Chestnut, says he has not yet filed a law suit against the company, but he's investigating what happened.
"Why is it that 911, emergency professionals weren't immediately allowed to attend to Mr. Storey?" asked Chestnut. "Why is it that hours later he is still hanging in a toxic tank?"
Chestnut says other workers could be in danger, and no one should have to experience the grief that Jessica and her children are going through.
"I don't know how we're going to be able to move on without my husband," said Storey.
Debbie Johnston, a spokeswoman for Resolute Forest Products, said the company's thoughts are with Mrs. Storey. She would not go into detail about the investigation.
"We are in the middle of a thorough investigation of this matter, and we are not prepared to make further comments at this time," said Johnston in a phone interview Tuesday.
According to York County emergency management director Cotton Howell, three contractors, including Storey, were doing maintenance on an old decommissioned tank outside the main production area. Howell believes some type of chemical leaked into the tank around 1:30 a.m. while the men were inside.
The investigation has been taken over by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). York County will assist OSHA with the investigation.
In May 2012, one man was critically burned and three others injured during a chemical leak in a pulping area of the mill. A chemical used to process wood chips called "white liquor" was released and burned the four employees.
Howell says the two incidents are completely different. One was in an active area of the plant with a chemical pipe rupture; the other was not.
Resolute Forest Products is a member of the Forest Products Association of Canada and is headquartered in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
The plant employs about 700 people and makes commercial printing papers and market pulp.
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