Updated: 5:52 p.m. Wednesday, June 27, 2012 | Posted: 11:04 a.m. Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Man, 33, dies in accident at Chester Co. steel plant

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ATI Allvac photo
ATI Allvac

RICHBURG, S.C. —

A Lancaster man died Wednesday in a horrific work place accident. 

Shawn Merritt, 33, was killed while at work at ATI Allvac in the town of Richburg in Chester County.

The plant uses metal alloys like titanium and nickel to make products used in the medical and aerospace fields.

Chester County Coroner Terry Tinker said Merritt was in an area of the plant that filled with super-cooled liquid nitrogen. Tinker said temperatures in that area can fall to 200 degrees below zero.  

Late Wednesday, officials said Merritt's cause of death was asphyxiation from oxygen depletion and exposure to subfreezing temperatures.

It is not clear why or how Merritt got into, or fell into, the area containing the liquid nitrogen.

His ex-wife, Erica Merritt, said that Shawn Merritt was a loving person.

"He loved his daughter, Caylin, who's 14. He loved her so much," she said.

Shawn Merritt's sister, Renee Bailey, said he loved his job. 

"He was a hard-working man. He just loved to work," she said.

Family members said Merritt had been laid off from ATI Allvac several years ago, but was later called back to work there again. 

Bailey said the family is not angry at anyone at the plant over what happened.

"You can't live in anger," she said. "We're just devastated, just in shock. He was just so full of life."

Richburg firefighters got to the scene shortly after EMS arrived on Tuesday night. Fire Chief John Agee said it was emotionally tough because his firefighters do training exercises at Allvac's massive plant. 

They know and respect the people there, he said.

"Obviously, nobody wants to see anybody get hurt, or something like this. You just have to do your job and do the best you can," Agee said.

South Carolina's Occupational Safety and Health Administration office is investigating the incident. They are looking for any safety violations that might have caused Merritt's death. 

An OSHA spokeswoman said that investigation should take six to eight weeks.

A check of OSHA records turned up no history of safety violations for the Chester County plant.

ATI Allvac spokesman Dan Greenfield called the plant's safety record world class, and said everyone at the Pennsylvania-based company was stunned.

"We're very saddened by it, and we're just as shocked by this as anyone," he said.

The plant closed Tuesday night and remained closed until Wednesday afternoon. 

Greenfield said counselors will be available for workers there as long as needed.

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