A Twain Harte man who had been on the job for two and a half weeks died Friday night in the wood chipper room of Sierra Pacific Industries.

Joseph Costa, known as Joey to his family, suffered injuries to his arm and jaw, according to the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office. He was 27.

Kassandra Beyett, Costa’s sister, said the family has not been given information about what happened.

The Sheriff’s Office released a statement saying deputies were called to the Camage facility at 8:30 p.m. Friday and found a man who was not breathing and without a pulse on the catwalk at the waste chipper station.

Costa was pronounced dead at 8:45 p.m. after medical personnel arrived.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration has taken over the investigation.

An SPI official could not be reached for comment Monday.

According to OSHA’s online database, SPI has been investigated four times since 2017. One was deemed serious, the second level after a willful violation. The specifics of the violation on Sept. 21, 2018, were not listed, but the fine was $5,850.

Two investigations were labeled other. One on June, 26, 2019, brought a fine of $425, the other on Dec. 28, 2018, drew a fine of $850. A complaint was filed on Feb. 22, 2018, and the company was fined $185.

The sawmill was last inspected on March 2, 2017, according to the OSHA database.

Beyett said her brother worked at a number of difficult jobs before starting at SPI, including construction and as a big-rig mechanic. She said he had started looking for another job because he felt conditions at SPI were unsafe. He told her he had been injured by pieces of wood hitting him on the ankle and back.

“He was a good guy, an honest man and a hard worker, and he loved his children so much,” Beyette said.

He leaves behind a 6-year-old daughter, Sophia, and a 3-year-old son, Little Joey, who split time between Twain Harte, where he lived with his mother, and San Jose, where the children’s mother lives.

“They were his best friends,” she said. “Everything he did was to make life better for them.”

He was raised in Modesto and Livermore, before moving to Twain Harte to a cabin his grandparents had owned and where the family vacationed for years. His mother moved there several years ago after inheriting the cabin, Beyett said. He was the youngest of four children.

She said her brother loved to fish, especially at Lyons Lake.

“If he had a pole and some water, it didn’t matter what kind of fish were in there,” she said.

He was teaching his children to fish and was engaged to be married.

She said the family was told it likely would be Friday before any further information is available.

“We don’t know how he died and still don’t know what happened,” Beyett said. “We haven’t been able to see him. I’m sad. I’m devastated.”

Friday was their mother’s birthday.

Contact Lyn Riddle at 209-588-4541 or lriddle@uniondemocrat.com .

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