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‘It fell too fast,’ Louisa worker perishes in sawdust avalanche

Posted at 10:04 PM, May 06, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-08 08:20:21-04

LOUISA COUNTY, Va. -- The Louisa County Sheriff’s Office and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are investigating the death of a worker at the Chips Inc. sawmill near Zion Crossroads. Logs, board and sawdust lie everywhere at Chips Inc. in Louisa County, where, on Tuesday, 46-year-old Sean Marcus Lucas went to work filling his tractor trailer full of the tiny wood particles.

"He was an outstanding individual, very loyal to the company and also to everyone who worked there," said Detective Mark Stanton with the Louisa County Sheriff’s Office.

Stanton said at some point Lucas, who lived in Palmyra, stopped and got back into his truck thinking all of the sawdust had come down, but it had not.

Worker killed at Chips Inc. in Louisa (PHOTO: Deana Meredith/The Central Virginian)

Worker killed at Chips Inc. in Louisa (PHOTO: Deana Meredith/The Central Virginian)

"Depending upon moisture conditions it can cake up and not drop down to the bottom of the hopper," Stanton said.

Stanton said a large amount of sawdust suddenly started falling after Lucas got back into his truck. Lucas got out of the cab of his truck to try to escape, but the sawdust fell too fast.

"It would be very difficult for them to breath if they were under that kind of environment," Stanton said.

Stanton said the co-workers of Lucas pulled him from the dust and tried to revive their him, but it was too late.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner later determined Lucas died of Asphyxiation.

"They were basically in disbelief, they’re having a really hard time coping with it," Stanton said.

Lucas had worked at Chips for roughly 30 years, according to Stanton. A woman who answered the phone at Chips on Wednesday afternoon said the "mill is not running today…they’ve had a rough day as you can understand."