Investigating Xytex: The Evidence
August 28, 2017
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - A thick cloud of nitrogen fills the room of a sperm bank minutes before a deadly accident claims the life of a Richmond County deputy back in February. The video tells only part of the story. E-mails, manuals, pictures and more than four hundred pages of evidence from the Georgia Fire Marshal tells the other part of the story.
February 5th, 2017-- Shortly before 1:40 in the afternoon a thick fog begins to fill Xytex. Minutes before the leak an Airgas employee fills the outside tank with nitrogen.
Rewind a year:
June 29th, 2016- Xytex gets a building permit to build a shipping warehouse.
December 13th, 2016- Airgas, a nitrogen supplier, installs a new three thousand gallon tank outside of the newly constructed "shipping warehouse." The fire chief would later tell Xytex after the accident it needs to upgrade the building codes to reflect the actual use of the building.
December 22nd, 2016- The president and vice president of Xytex attempt to fill the tank without an operating permit. The tank is not inspected. It starts to leak nitrogen. They shut it off.
January 18th, 2017- The president of Xytex e-mails an Airgas manager. He writes "Stacy from Airgas came by and looked up the
setup and thought maybe the venting should go on the outside of the building ." But, Xytex keeps the venting as is.
"The pressure valve the relief was not out into the atmosphere it was it went into he building for some reason. I don't know why they did that," Sam Nicholson, lawyer for Anita Wylds, said.
The company which installed the setup later tells investigators that Xytex did not want the outside vents nor did it want to pay extra for insulated valves.
"We believe some of the piping inside the building wasn't insulated properly in the valve so when she touched the valve it would have automatically burned her," Nicholson said. The video of the accident shows Wylds trying to turn off a valve. "At this point she has lost all her fingers on the her right hand," Wyld's attorney said.
The fire marshal names the placement of the valves on the inside of the building as one of the failures in the accident.
The other failure? A decal.
Liz Owens: "What went wrong that day?"
Sam Nicholson: "Several things, we believe, went wrong."
January 24th, 2017- Airgas calibrated the tank to hold 22 PSI of nitrogen. Airgas said it would send someone out to change the decal on the tank.
The decal states it can hold 30 PSI. Nobody ever came back to change it.
February 5th, 2017 - An Airgas employee fills the tank to 30 PSI based on the old decal. The valves open and nitrogen fog begins to fill the room.
1:43 p.m. The fog activates the motion detector for the burglar alarm. Dispatch call: "Hi this is Linda with Tyco integrated security notifying you of a commercial burglary alarm."
1:52 p.m. Someone remotely turns off the alarm even though video shows the room thick with nitrogen at that time.
3:26 p.m. The alarm goes off a second time. This time alarm company calls Xytex employee, Anita Wylds. Sgt. Greg Meagher of the Richmond County Sheriff's office responds. Dispatch call: "Hi this is Greg Meagher with the Sheriff's department, B-20, we are at Xytex and we are here for an alarm......it appears the building that houses the nitrogen has busted leak and the doors have frozen and its leaking gases."
3:42 p.m. Video captures Wylds opening the door. She isn't wearing protective gear. Sgt. Meagher holds the door as she tries to turn off a valve.
She collapses behind the storage containers, out of sight. Minutes later, Sgt. Meagher goes in after her but the nitrogen is too much for him.
February 28th, 2017- Anita Wylds is still fighting for her life and the fire marshal is still investigating the cause of the accident. The fire marshal follows up with Xytex. He sees there is still no ventilation in the building which is required by under code. The vice president of Xytex- tells the investigator he's considering installing restaurant type exhaust vents along the top of the walls. The fire marshal tells him to talk to an expert because vents need to be within twelve inches of the floor for gasses like nitrogen. The investigators makes note that the vice president of Xytex isn't wearing the required protective gear while in the building.
June 29th, 2017- The investigation is still ongoing. The fire marshal pays another visit to Xytex. The fire marshals writes in his notes that the president of Xytex points to the piping system and freezers and says "We are going to start using this stuff. We are not going to leave it shut down for years!" The fire marshal suggests the president comply.
July 31st, 2017- OSHA fines Xytex.
August 16th, 2017- Georgia State Fire Marshal releases the results of the investigation. The agency fines Airgas more than $300,000 for failing to have nearly two hundred of its tanks re-inspected in Georgia. The agency also fined Airgas for failure to report an accident.
Three minutes, thirteen seconds which seem like eternity but cost Sgt. Greg Meagher his life. "Inherently. we know this is a dangerous job and, at times, it calls for the ultmate sacrifice and Greg was the true sense of a hero and if nothing else its inspired us to do our job even better." said Sheriff Richard Roundtree.