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Man dies in hopper accident at Chicago Heights plant

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Updated: May 6, 2013 6:20AM



Romelio Cruz came to the United States with a wife and two sons from Guanajuato, Mexico, when he was 30 years old, hoping to build a better life for his family.

For most of his time in this country, Cruz shouldered that burden alone. His wife, with whom he eventually had five children, died 25 years ago during childbirth.

“Our mother passed at a young age,” his son, Romel Cruz, said. “He was our father figure and our mother figure. He taught us how to live on our own.”

Cruz, 60, died Thursday in an accident at the Vesuvius USA plant in Chicago Heights, authorities said.

His body was found inside a hopper at the plant, 333 S. State St., police said. A hopper is a funnel-shaped bin that stores loose material, which is filled through the top and dispensed through the bottom.

Cruz fell into the auger, said Occupational Safety and Health Administration spokesman Scott Allen, who said the death is the second at the plant in 25 months.

Chicago Heights police and paramedics responded to a call of an industrial accident at 7 a.m., police said. Cruz was checked by paramedics and showed no signs of life, police said. He was pronounced dead at the scene, and was to be taken to the medical examiner’s office for an autopsy, police said.

A receptionist at the plant’s front office said the company had “no comment at this time.”

Cruz’s daughter, Juliana Gonzalez, said her father worked at the plant as a machine operator for the past eight years. He was working a morning shift when he died and he often worked 50-hour weeks at the plant. In in his off hours, he owned a side business with his son, Cruz Landscaping.

She said that Cruz, of South Holland, was a dedicated family man who loved spending time with his five children and six grandchildren. He recently hosted Easter at his house and enjoyed watching his grandchildren search for Easter eggs hidden around his yard.

In addition to spending time with his family, Juliana Gonzalez said Cruz enjoyed gardening and growing tomatoes and peppers with Romel, his middle son.

Romel said Cruz worked hard to provide for his family.

“I know he was tired and trying to work extra hours,” Romel said. “He did it anyway and he didn’t complain.”

Romel said he heard the news from a relative who told him his father was “found in a grinder.”

The details of how Cruz died are still unknown, Romel said. While he wants to know why his father died, any explanation will be insufficient.

“We will never be satisfied with their explanation,” Romel said. “He’s gone. That’s it.”

Allen said an OSHA inspector was onsite Thursday afternoon to interview employees and witnesses. He said because the accident was a fatality, an investigation could take up to six months. Chicago Heights police also are conducting a death investigation.

Allen said an employee was killed there in a fall off a roof in March 2011.

He said the employee was working on the roof without any fall protection. He was helping a production operator unload material and went to the roof of a building to hammer the side of a bin that had become clogged.

While pounding the clogged area, the employee fell from the roof to the ground 30 feet below, Allen said. He was taken to a hospital and then a trauma center but did not survive, Allen said.

Allen said Vesuvius originally was fined $7,000 for the accident but it was later reduced to $5,000.

The site is a union plant, Allen said.

According to the company’s website, its global activities include steel flow control, foundry technologies, advanced refractories, and precious metals processing.

No one answered the phone at the Chicago Heights location Thursday, and messages left with the plant manager were not returned.

Contributing: Steve Metsch and Joseph P. Meier



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