By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
A JURY could not decide whether a man’s death from having his legs mangled in a cement mixer last year was an accident or otherwise.
The five-member jury returned an open verdict concerning the circumstances that led to Kelly Steven Brown’s death at Block World in February 2018. In returning that verdict, the jury confirmed that Mr Brown’s death was suspicious, but was unable to reach any other verdicts open to it.
During the inquest before Coroner Jeanine Weech-Gomez, jurors heard how on February 19, 2018, Mr Brown, who had only started working at Block World the month before, was in the process of cleaning the mixer while the electricity was off, when the power suddenly came back on and amputated his legs.
He was later taken to hospital where he died.
Detective Corporal Cyril Walkes, one of the investigating officers, said when he saw Mr Brown’s body in the hospital, his right leg in particular was “severely mangled”.
“I’ve never seen anything like that in all my years,” the officer said while giving evidence. “Very, very horrific.”
When he gave testimony, James Wallace, manager of Block World, said Mr Brown’s death may have resulted from his former co-worker, Sean Pennerman, inadvertently turning on the machine without knowledge that Mr Brown was inside.
Mr Wallace, who was out of the country when the incident occurred, said his suspicions were based on employee reports that Mr Pennerman was seen near the machine’s control panel when it turned on, and was also the one who turned it off when the “screams” started.
Mr Wallace said based on what he was told, Mr Pennerman pushed the button somehow thinking he was stopping the mixer, but actually started the machine, all while unaware that Mr Brown was inside.
Mr Wallace said though Mr Pennerman never actually admitted to pushing the button when he conducted his internal investigation, there was no other explanation for the machine randomly turning on.
Mr Wallace said he conducted an internal investigation into the matter. He explained that company policy mandates that two employees are to clean the mixer, from start to finish. On that day, however, Mr Brown decided to start cleaning the mixer while Felix Wallace was getting his air chisel — a tool that removes the build-up in the mixer’s drum— from the tool shed some 100 feet away.
According to Mr Wallace, Mr Brown did so because he had plans to get off early that day. He said normally, upon clocking out for the day, Mr Brown would get together with some of the employees at Whim Automotive Limited for drinks at a nearby store. Those plans could have been adversely affected by the hour or so it takes to clean the mixer, Mr Wallace suggested.
Thus, Mr Wallace said based on what he was told, Mr Brown was in a “hurry to go see his friends.”
However, in doing so, Mr Wallace said Mr Brown “made a mistake” of not putting safety first. Based on evidence led previously, when an employee is about to clean the mixer, he would have to ensure that the main power lever is pulled down to disconnect the power supply, then secure it in that position with a padlock. The key to that padlock is then placed in that employee’s pocket to ensure no one tampers with the lock and possibly the main disconnect panel.
According to the evidence, it is physically impossible for the machine to get power if the main disconnect is secured in the off position, even if someone pushes the power button.
That was not done in this instance, according to Mr Wallace, as he was told that not only was the padlock lying by the electrical break box, the key was inside the padlock.
Though the evidence thus far is that Mr Brown could not have pushed the button to start the machine given the control panel’s distance from the mixer, Mr Wallace said someone else was in the immediate area at the time of the incident: Mr Pennerman.
Mr Wallace said in canvassing his employees over the next few days, one senior employee, Perry Winder, said he saw Mr Pennerman by the control panel near the mixer. In fact, Mr Wallace said he was told that Mr Pennerman was “the first one at the mixer”, though it is unclear if he got to the machine before or after Mr Brown.
Mr Wallace said Mr Winder told him that he heard a “scream”, and when he turned and looked towards the mixer, Mr Pennerman, whom he said was driving the cement block loader that day, was there and turned the machine off.
Mr Wallace said based on what he was told, Mr Pennerman may have pushed the button somehow thinking he was stopping the mixer, but actually started the machine, all the while unaware that Mr Brown was inside. Mr Wallace said such an admission was never made by Mr Pennerman, but he said there were other things that emerged during the internal investigation that further aroused his suspicion.
Firstly, he said when he got word of the news from his assistant manager, Beth Moree, she said she was at the site holding Mr Brown’s hand. Mr Wallace said he was told that while all of the other employees were in “shock” and “running” around, Mr Pennerman was the only one who stayed by Mr Brown’s side.
Additionally, Mr Wallace said Mr Pennerman, who was just as much a ‘go-getter’ on the job as Mr Brown, was “never the same” after the incident. Mr Wallace said Mr Pennerman ultimately ended up having to take two weeks off from work, prompting him to tell the man to take as much time as he needed to get a handle on his feelings.
However, Mr Wallace said he’d never observed any issues between Messrs Brown and Pennerman, as both were “very quiet” individuals. Additionally, he said, Mr Pennerman is a “good family man” who wouldn’t “play around” with something like that.
Mr Wallace also said that at that time, none of the employees were squabbling or going at each other to his knowledge.
But despite Mr Wallace’s claims that there was no discord amongst his employees, Detective Corporal Cyril Walkes, one of the investigators, said Mr Brown was disliked by his coworkers because of his work ethic, with some of them feeling he was “showing them up”.
D/Cpl Walkes said one of Mr Brown’s co-workers told him that Mr Brown “was just performing at a higher level than the others”, and that he would consequently hear “resentment” and “chitter-chatter” from some of the staff from time to time.
However, D/Cpl Walkes said “the persons that have the answers were never spoken to” to the best of his knowledge.
D/Cpl Walkes explained that based on the information he and his partner, Detective Sergeant Darren Stubbs got from their preliminary inquiries into the matter, he had recommended to his superiors that further interviews be conducted in the matter. He also said he and D/Sgt Stubbs had arranged for further interviews to take place.
The officer also said as he and D/Sgt Stubbs had a good grasp of the incident, and were thus “very confident” that they were the ideal people to see the investigation through to its conclusion.
However, D/Cpl Walkes said those interviews never took place subsequent to making his recommendations. He said he honestly could not say why.
“As far as I’m concerned (the investigation) is still open,” he said during previous testimony.