Victims’ families sue over deadly Gainesville poultry plant disaster

03/02/2021 —Gainesville, Georgia — Flowers, candles, notes and stuffed animals are displayed at a makeshift vigil outside of the Foundation Food Group in Gainesville, Tuesday, February 2, 2021. Six people died while working at the plant, January 28, when a liquid nitrogen line ruptured. Five people died at the scene on Memorial Park Drive, and 12 others were taken to the emergency room at Northeast Georgia Medical Center with injuries, officials said. One of those patients died at the hospital. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
03/02/2021 —Gainesville, Georgia — Flowers, candles, notes and stuffed animals are displayed at a makeshift vigil outside of the Foundation Food Group in Gainesville, Tuesday, February 2, 2021. Six people died while working at the plant, January 28, when a liquid nitrogen line ruptured. Five people died at the scene on Memorial Park Drive, and 12 others were taken to the emergency room at Northeast Georgia Medical Center with injuries, officials said. One of those patients died at the hospital. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Their absence hums — roars — in loved ones’ beaten hearts.

The six workers who perished after a nitrogen leak at a Gainesville poultry plant on Jan. 28 meant so much to families, friends and co-workers. A mom was supposed to be bragging on her little girl. A husband was supposed to surprise his wife with a Valentine’s Day bouquet. A son was supposed to keep helping his mom with bills. Fathers were supposed to be with their children, riding horses, wrestling on the floor, encouraging them work hard so one day they might not clock in at a place of grueling and dangerous labor.

Five of the victims’ families this week filed wrongful death lawsuits, alleging negligence by Messer Group, the manufacturer of machines the Foundation Food Group Inc. poultry plant used to flash-freeze meat with nitrogen. Each suit also accuses a Messer employee of negligence for coming in days before the massive leak to work on associated machinery and leaving without fixing it. The suits allege he also failed to warn workers of the dangers the nitrogen system could pose with the repairs undone. Nitrogen can reduce the oxygen in the air, cause asphyxiation or cold burns.

“The evidence will show that Messer was extremely careless and reckless with its work on this machine,” said attorney Michael Goldberg of Fried Goldberg, representing the family of victim Saulo Suarez-Bernal, 45. “It is important to these workers and their families that everyone who has any culpability is brought to justice now.”

A spokeswoman for Messer, whose area headquarters are in Gwinnett County, said the company is cooperating with state and federal investigations and had no comment on the suits. The worker also named as a defendant in the suits couldn’t be reached for comment. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution isn’t naming him because he hasn’t been charged or identified by authorities.

Each suit, filed in Gwinnett County State Court, asks a jury to determine what the victims’ families are owed.

Maria Piedad Cabrera Galicia is suing over the death of her son, Jose DeJesus Elias-Cabrera, who worked seven days a week to send money home to her in Mexico. The son toiled 20 years to help his dear mom, and he died doing it.

Veronica Vellez is suing for her husband, Victor Vellez, 38. The couple has two sons who they liked to take to Mass at Saint Michael Roman Catholic Church, which some of the other victims also attended.

Colleen Murphy is suing over the death of her husband, Corey Murphy, 35. The couple has two children. Their dad was a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The family of Saulo Suarez-Bernal, 41, is suing for their relative who “suffered immensely” as he died of asphyxiation, their lawsuit says.

Yedith Alejandra Gauna is suing for her husband, Edgar Vera-Garcia, 28. They have three small children. Days before his death, Vera-Garcia stopped by the florist near the plant to plan his wife’s Valentine’s bouquet. Knowing he couldn’t deliver them on the holiday, Nena’s Florist sent the flowers to Vera-Garcia’s wife, a husband’s last gift to his wife, a surprise from somewhere beyond.

It wasn’t immediately clear if family of Nelly Perez-Rafael, 28, is planning a suit. Perez-Rafael had a little girl she took everywhere and, in her last moments of life, Perez-Rafael alerted co-workers to the leak.

(From left) Jose DeJesus Elias-Cabrera, Nelly Gisel Perez Rafael, Saulo Suarez-Bernal, Corey Alan Murphy and Edgar Uriel Vera-Garcia. 
All photos from Memorial Park Funeral Homes, except for Corey Alan Murphy from Norris-New Funeral Home, and Jose DeJesus Elias-Cabrera from family.
(From left) Jose DeJesus Elias-Cabrera, Nelly Gisel Perez Rafael, Saulo Suarez-Bernal, Corey Alan Murphy and Edgar Uriel Vera-Garcia. All photos from Memorial Park Funeral Homes, except for Corey Alan Murphy from Norris-New Funeral Home, and Jose DeJesus Elias-Cabrera from family.

In Other News