A spokesman for Cal/OSHA said Tuesday that the Sierra Pacific Industries employee who died Friday night was pulled into the roller of a conveyor system.
Joe Costa, 27, was pronounced dead at 8:45 p.m., and suffered arm and jaw injuries, the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office reported Monday.
Frank Polizzi, California Department of Industrial Relations public information officer, said Cal/OSHA was notified about the incident Friday and is investigating whether there were violations of workplace safety regulations. Such investigations can take up to six months.
Mark Luster, the manager of community relations for Sierra Pacific, said the company offers its thoughts and prayers to Costa’s family.
“Joe was a valued worker and our condolences go out to his family,” he said.
Luster declined to talk about the circumstances of Costa’s death, saying the incident was under investigation.
Costa’s sister, Kassandra Beyett, said Monday that her brother had worked at Sierra Pacific for two and a half weeks and was looking for a new job because he considered the facility dangerous. He told her he had been injured on the job twice, in the ankle and back.
Luster said, “We have numerous safety programs, training, inspections. It is a safe environment.”
According to OSHA’s online database, SPI’s Camage Avenue sawmill 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.
Luster said he did not know the circumstances of the previous investigations.
He confirmed that the last fatality at the mill was the July 2012 death of Ron Billings II, who was caught in machinery. He was 25.
Beyett said the family learned of Costa’s death when someone called from Sierra Pacific and said Joe was dead and they didn’t know where his body was. Beyette immediately went to the plant and talked to a law enforcement officer, who said the call never should have been made.
The coroner and a chaplain went to the home about an hour later to talk to Beyette’s mother, Sgt. Andrea Benson of the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office said.
Luster said any calls made from the plant like that would violate company policy. He said he had not heard that such a call had been made.
Costa lived in a cabin in Twain Harte that his family had owned for years as a vacation home. He grew up in Modesto and LIvermore. In addition to his mother, he is survived by two small children and three siblings.
Contact Lyn Riddle at 209-588-4541 or firstname.lastname@example.org .