Plant explosion victim said it was a ‘matter of time’ before someone got hurt, friend says

ANSON COUNTY, N.C. — A close friend of the man killed in an explosion at a local industrial plant spoke to Channel 9 about what it’s been like to lose him.

Joseph Mauldin worked at the Darling Ingredients plant in Wadesboro. The father of two died in last week’s explosion.

Austen Morton told Channel 9′s Genevieve Curtis he and Mauldin bonded 16 years ago over metal detecting, magnet fishing and treasure hunting.

“We didn’t ever find much, it was mostly junk,” Morton said.

What they did find was a lasting friendship.

“We thought we were just having fun, but we were building a lot of memories together,” Morton said. “And now that he’s gone, memories are all that I have left.”

Morton cried as he remembered his friend. Mauldin was killed Thursday night after an explosion at Darling Ingredients. Morton, a Mount Gilead police officer, said he felt helpless trying to reach his best friend after getting news of the explosion.

“I’m in a job where it’s my job to help people, and that’s my best friend, and I can’t help him,” Morton said.

Morton said Mauldin, a proud father, was also the type of friend you could always count on.

“When we were first friends, I drove a Pontiac Thunderbird. It broke down constantly,” he said, laughing. “So I would call him all the time to come help me or go get parts.”

“I remember calling him at 11:35 on Christmas Eve to come help me,” he said.

Morton said his dependable friend kept going to work, despite safety concerns. In 2020, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, fined Darling Ingredients $75,000 for a plant explosion that killed two workers in Mississippi.

“He said it was only a matter of time before someone else got hurt,” Morton said.

Morton said his best friend was so concerned about his safety, he was considering a career change. He’d even asked Morton how he could get into law enforcement.

OSHA is now investigating the plant explosion and Morton hopes that will lead to some changes.

“I’m still trying to understand why I lost my friend, but I’m also concerned about other peoples’ friends and family that work there,” he said.

Darling Ingredients officials released a statement, saying, “We are deeply saddened by the loss of one of our employees. Our hearts and prayers go to the family, friends, and coworkers of our team member.”

Curtis reached out to OSHA for an update on their investigation.

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