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Pepsi plant accidents lead to federal investigations Tampa

TAMPA — Two federal investigations are underway at Pepsi's Tampa plant, one into the incident Sunday that seriously injured an employee and another into an accident in March that killed one contract worker and hurt another.

Pepsi has also dispatched its own team of engineers to Tampa to investigate the most recent accident and is moving up a previously scheduled safety review of plant equipment, said company spokesman Dave DeCecco.

Christian Lee Vance, 39, of Oldsmar got his left leg trapped in the plant's conveyor system, which he had been cleaning, on Sunday morning.

Other workers told police they didn't know how it had happened. They ran to Vance's aid after hearing his screams.

Members of the fire department's heavy rescue team worked for nearly 90 minutes to free Vance from the machinery. He is recovering at Tampa General Hospital.

"He's in good spirits and he's optimistic that he'll regain use of his leg," DeCecco said.

The company is bumping forward to this week a third-party safety review of plant equipment that had been scheduled for late September.

Pepsi decided to launch that review following the fatal March accident at the Tampa plant's warehouse, according to DeCecco. He did not know which equipment would be looked at in the safety audit.

In the March accident, two employees of Pennsylvania-based Westfalia Technology were repairing a mechanical lift that is used to move pallets of bottled beverages to vertical racks.

The lift was about 15 feet in the air when, for some reason, it fell.

One of the men, 35-year-old Nathaniel Sullivan of Brogue, Penn., was pinned below the machine and killed. A medical examiners' report determined he died from injuries to his head.

The other man, William Brown, 47, of Dallastown, Penn., suffered serious injuries.

Kevin Yarbrough, the assistant director for the federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration's Tampa-area office, declined to provide details about its two investigations.

DeCecco said Monday that because the investigations are ongoing, he could not discuss whether the federal agency had issued any interim safety recommendations.

The Tampa plant, which employs about 400 people, is located at 11315 N 30th St. near the University of South Florida.

The warehouse and production facility is among the largest soft drink manufacturing plants in the country.

It has produced millions of cases of Pepsi products, including 7UP and Dr. Pepper, predominantly for customers throughout southwestern Florida.

OSHA's website has no record of closed investigations at the Tampa facility. Since February 1998, Tampa police have responded there to only two workplace accidents — the two that happened within the last six months.

"I will say that employee safety is absolutely our No. 1 priority and we want to make sure our equipment is safe and an event like this does not happen again," DeCecco said.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Reach Jodie Tillman at jtillman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3374. Reach Danny Valentine at dvalentine@sptimes.com.

Pepsi plant accidents lead to federal investigations Tampa 08/29/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 1:00am]
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