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Deadly nitrogen leak: A timeline of case at Foundation Food Group poultry plant in Gainesville
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Employees gather outside of the Foundation Food Group site at Memorial Drive and Centennial Drive in Gainesville following a liquid nitrogen leak that killed six people. School buses were brought in to take employees away from the site. - photo by Scott Rogers

A tragic incident Jan. 28 at Foundation Food Group poultry processing plant on Memorial Park Drive in Gainesville killed six employees and rocked the community. The Times was on scene that day and has followed the case closely as investigations have continued, filing open records requests to obtain information and speaking with those involved in the case. The following is a timeline of the incident, investigations and other coverage, beginning with the most recent developments.

November: After the discovery of destroyed evidence in the Foundation Food Group fatal nitrogen leak, a judge called the defendant’s conduct in a wrongful death lawsuit “shockingly unacceptable and at best is grossly negligent.”

October: Attorneys in the wrongful death lawsuits stemming from the leak seek sanctions against a chemical company for allegedly destroying a piece of evidence and providing false information, according to court documents.

October: Court filings from Foundation Food Group’s legal battle with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration shed light on some details of the sale to Gold Creek Foods.

Sept. 17: Foundation Food Group filed a lawsuit against its insurance company for refusing to pay out money after financial losses caused by the leak.

Sept. 10: Gold Creek Foods announced it had struck a deal “to acquire substantially all of the assets of Foundation Food Group.” 

August: Three companies cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in July for the nitrogen leak appealed the citations, while one reached an informal settlement agreement.

July: OSHA announced its ruling against Foundation Food Group and other companies involved in the leak. OSHA cited Foundation Food Group, Messer LLC, Packers Sanitation Services Inc., and FS Group Inc. The 59 alleged violations could lead to close to $1 million total in penalties.

The Department of Labor went to court seeking help to enforce subpoenas in an investigation into Foundation Food Group. 

June 3: Court filings are made public on the dispute between OSHA and those involved in the leak. The disputes involve numerous issues, including the expansion of the probe in the wake of additional employee complaints, inspectors who say they've been denied access and a company that says its rights are being violated.

March 26: Georgia Familias Unidas announced it had filed a complaint with OSHA on behalf of multiple Foundation Food Group workers, alleging an “imminent danger.”

March 12: The Georgia Bureau of Investigation determined all six workers killed in the leak died by asphyxia from liquid nitrogen exposure. 

Feb. 24: Foundation Food Group resumed operations at its Gainesville plant as investigators continued their work on the deadly Jan. 28 nitrogen leak.

Feb. 9: The Times acquired building inspection reports through an open records request covering a span of time from 2016, which is before Prime Pak became Foundation Food Group, through 2021. The reports showed a host of issues including blocked exits and lacking emergency lights. 

Jan. 30: Grim details were confirmed in 911 calls obtained by The Times.

In his first 911 call Thursday, a man identifying himself as the plant director for Foundation Food Group says he can see people moving outside and has heard someone is potentially frozen by liquid nitrogen.

By his second call, he is trying to find out how to help the workers, telling the 911 operator someone is foaming at the mouth.

That same day, many gathered for an emotional vigil organized at the site.

The group met across the street from the plant, where pastors and other speakers prayed for the families and the community. At one point, the crowd was directed to go across the street, where people lit candles and placed flowers at six wreaths planted in front of the plant.

Jan. 29: The six killed were identified as 

  • Jose DeJesus Elias-Cabrera, 45, of Gainesville  

  • Corey Alan Murphy, 35, of Clermont  

  • Nelly Perez-Rafael, 28, of Gainesville

  • Saulo Suarez-Bernal, 41, of Dawsonville  

  • Victor Vellez, 38, of Gainesville  

  • Edgar Vera-Garcia, 28, of Gainesville

Jan. 28: Six people were killed and at least a dozen others were injured in what was determined to be a nitrogen leak at Foundation Food Group poultry processing plant on Memorial Park Drive in Gainesville. Five people were found dead on-site and another died at Northeast Georgia Medical Center.