Harrowing 911 calls describe what happened inside plant during deadly chemical leak

HALL COUNTY, Ga. — Officials have identified six people who died at a Hall County food processing plant Thursday after a liquid nitrogen line burst.

It happened around 10:30 a.m. at the Foundation Food’s chicken processing facility in Gainesville.

The Hall County Sheriff’s Office identified the workers as:

  • Jose DeJesus Elias-Cabrera, 45, of Gainesville
  • Corey Alan Murphy, 35, of Clermont
  • Nelly Perez-Rafael, 28, of Gainesville (female)
  • Saulo Suarez-Bernal, 41, of Dawsonville
  • Victor Vellez , 38, of Gainesville
  • Edgar Vera-Garcia, 28, of Gainesville

The victims jobs ranged from maintenance to supervisors and management. Their bodies have been transported to the GBI Crime Lab for autopsy.

A GoFundMe has been set up to support their families.

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Harrowing 911 calls from inside the plant detail what happened as the line ruptured and liquid nitrogen, which is used to flash freeze food coming off the line, poured into the plant.

The first call came from plant manager Zach Hoover.

“I’ve got a person who potentially could be frozen from liquid nitrogen,” Hoover says.

A few minutes later he called again.

“How many patients are there?” the dispatcher asks.

“At least 4,” Hoover says.

“Is he breathing?” the dispatcher asks.

“I’ve got two people not breathing and one barely breathing,” Hoover says.

Hall County investigators said five of the victims died inside the plant. Another person died after being rushed to the hospital.

Three more people remain in critical condition. Several others, including firefighters, have been treated and release from the hospital after breathing in the liquid nitrogen fumes.

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OSHA and the State Fire Marshal’s office along with crime scene investigators from Hall County are at the chicken processing plant, trying to pinpoint a cause of the incident. Investigators from the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board also arrived on scene Friday from Washington, D.C.

Records and our own reporting show that this was not the first problem at the plant. In 2019, we reported on a $10,000 fine levied by the state Environmental Protection Division against then owners Prime Pak for not having a filed emergency plan dealing with ammonia.

Union leaders representing commercial food workers, although not at this plant, are now urging state and federal investigators to look hard at Foundation Foods to prevent issues at other plants.

“It’s not common, let me just put it that way. This is what happens when a shortcut is taken. That’s what history shows us. I don’t know exactly what happened in this case,” said Mark Lauritsen, Vice President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

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Vanessa Sarazua with the Hispanic Alliance says the community is now afraid that the same thing could happen again at a different plant.

“Our community is working in fear,” she said. “A lot of our community felt hurt of going to work and never coming out of that poultry plant.”

Executives have not responded to questions about the plant, it’s history or when they first knew of any potential problems with the nitrogen line.

Investigators say it will be days, if not weeks, before they reach any conclusion on the cause of the ruptured line.