Report details death of New London man in trash compactor

New London — The police investigation of the January death of longtime city resident Floyd G. Smeeton determined his fall into a trash compactor at the city transfer station was accidental. Police reported they found no criminal wrongdoing.

The report, which The Day obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, enumerates several factors that could have contributed to the fall, including a lack of safety railings, slippery conditions near the edge of the compactor and a medical condition Smeeton apparently suffered from.

But, according to the police report, no one saw what caused Smeeton to fall about 15 feet down into the compactor.

Shortly before 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 30, Smeeton, who was 59, arrived at the transfer station with a friend's couch in the bed of his black Toyota Tacoma pickup truck. Smeeton stopped at the weigh station house and was directed by Public Works Department solid waste crew leader Tom Ryan to back his truck up to the main pit and dump the couch into the compactor, which was running at the time, according to the police report.

Quincy Jones, a public works employee who had previously turned the compactor on, told police he heard Ryan tell Smeeton, "Be careful, the blade is running."

A few minutes later, Theodore Olynciw and Shane Burgess arrived together at the transfer station with a pickup truck full of scrap wood to discard. Ryan instructed them to wait behind Smeeton's truck and cautioned them that the compactor was running.

About 2 minutes later, the two became impatient and Burgess got out "to see what was taking so long."

Smeeton's truck was backed up to the edge of the compactor pit, its engine not running. The couch was still in the bed of the truck, the driver's side door was open and the keys lay on the driver's seat.

Burgess then looked into the compactor, where "he saw Smeeton's body being crushed on the right-hand side of the compactor," New London police Detective Christopher Kramer wrote in the incident report.

No one was manning the compactor's controls, which include an emergency shutoff button, when Smeeton fell into the trash compactor, according to the report.

Burgess immediately ran to the weigh house to alert Ryan and Jones about the man in the compactor. Ryan called the police department dispatch center from his cellphone to report the incident at 2:32 p.m.

"Jones, knowing the compactor was still running, reported he ran to the compactor building control room to shut down the compactor," Kramer wrote in the report.

Once the compactor was turned off, a third public works employee, Raul Carranza, who was in the bathroom of a nearby building at the time of the incident, used a ladder to lower himself into the compactor and attempted to perform first aid on Smeeton.

Shortly thereafter, firefighters arrived and began to perform emergency medical treatment on Smeeton. He was extricated from the compactor at 2:58 p.m. and placed into an ambulance, where medical treatment continued.

At 3:09 p.m., upon arriving at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, Smeeton was pronounced dead.

After conducting an autopsy, the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined the cause of Smeeton's death to be "head, thorax and pelvic trauma with chest compression."

The medical examiner ruled the death accidental. The official report also noted that Smeeton had marijuana in his system at the time of his death.

There were no witnesses to the fatal fall, according to the police report.

Smeeton's family members told police he suffered from a medical condition that affected his balance and could cause spells of fainting. The medical examiner's office told police there was no way to determine if such an episode caused him to fall into the compactor.

Garbage scattered around the edge of the compactor created a slippery condition and chain link safety gates designed to prevent falls into the pit were not properly closed, according to the report.

"We observed all of the safety gates were in the open position," Kramer wrote in the incident report. "Furthermore, one of the gates was held open with a metal barrel and the safety gate guide wheel was missing."

Ryan later told police he was "pretty sure" the gates had been closed and that "Smeeton would have had to move the gate to get the truck where it was parked."

Public Works Director Tim Hanser did not return a call seeking comment on Wednesday. Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio declined to comment, citing pending litigation. Smeeton's estate has notified the city that it intends to bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the city.

In March, the state Department of Labor's Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Conn-OSHA) cited New London for "willful" and "serious" safety violations contributing to a hazardous work environment at the transfer station and levied a fine of $10,800 against the city.

Among the violations found by Conn-OSHA was the failure to have railings or guardrails protecting people from a fall in the trash compactor area.

The transfer station was cited in March 2010 for having no railings to protect against a possible fall, according to records obtained from the Department of Labor.

"Fast forward to this particular inspection we did starting Jan. 30 ... we went out there and found an identical violation to what we found last time," Kenneth C. Tucker, director of Conn-OSHA, told The Day in March. "And because they knew about the violation or the standard that applied because we previously cited it, we felt that there was a plain indifference."


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