A Georgia sheriff’s deputy died Sunday after he inhaled liquid nitrogen while trying to save an employee inside an Augusta sperm bank, officials said.
Richmond County sheriff’s Sgt. Greg Meagher, 57, was trying to rescue employee Anita Wylds, whom he believed inhaled the chemical substance, Richmond County Coroner Mark Bowen said.
Meagher was overcome.
Just after 3:50 p.m., emergency officials were called to the Xytex sperm bank in the 1100 block of Emmett Street, according to Dee Griffin, spokeswoman for the Augusta Fire Department and Augusta’s Emergency Management Agency. Inside, they found Meagher and Wylds unresponsive.
A hazardous materials team responded and shut off liquid nitrogen tanks, Griffin said.
“Firefighters pulled both people out of the building,” Griffin said.
They were taken to Augusta University Medical Center, where Meagher was pronounced dead about 4:30 p.m.
Indian Dunn lives across the street and told Channel 2 Action News she saw firefighters pull Meagher’s limp body out and try to restart his heart and lungs.
“They were actually pumping him, like giving him mouth (to mouth),” Dunn said. “It was sad to see something like that.”
The GBI planned to perform an autopsy.
Wylds was in critical condition later Monday afternoon and Griffin said three other deputies who complained of difficulty breathing were taken to a hospital for treatment. Their injuries were not life-threatening.
Social media was filled with condolences for Meagher.
“The Augusta Fire Department and EMA send sincere condolences and prayers to the Richmond County Sheriff's Office on the passing of dedicated servant Sgt. Greg Meagher,” the agency said Sunday in a Facebook post.
Xytex, which has locations in Augusta, Atlanta and New Jersey, preserves cells and tissues for sperm donations, according to the company’s website. Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze those donations.
The company said in a statement that it is cooperating with the investigation.
OSHA was at the site Monday afternoon trying to determine what caused the tank to leak.