DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
MINE SAFETY AND HEALTH ADMINISTRATION
Metal and Nonmetal Mine Safety and Health
Accident Investigation Report
Surface Nonmetal Phosphate Mine
Fatal Drowning Accident
Vickers Security Service
Fort Green Mine
Bradley Junction, Polk County, Florida
December 25, 1997
Mine Safety and Health Administration
135 Gemini Circle, Suite 212
Birmingham, Alabama 35209
GENERAL INFORMATIONRobert Edward Weeks, security guard, age 35, drowned between the hours of 5:00 a.m. December 22, and 7:44 p.m., December 25, 1997, when his pick-up truck left the road and became partially submerged in approximately four feet of water. The victim had a total of eight years experience as a security guard, 12 weeks as a guard at this mine. Weeks was working in an area of new construction, and was not required to receive training in accordance with 30 CFR, Part 48.
MSHA was notified on the day of the accident by a telephone call from the safety director for the mining company that the victim was missing. An investigation was started the same day.
The Fort Green Mine, an open-pit phosphate operation, owned and operated by IMC-Agrico Company, was located 15 miles south of Mulberry, Polk County, Florida. The principal operating official was Steve C. Garcia, vice president and general manager of the Florida Minerals Operation. The mine was normally operated three, 8-hour shifts a day, seven days a week. A total of 260 persons was employed.
Phosphate was strip mined by removing overburden which was placed in adjacent mined out areas. Underlying matrix was excavated by electric draglines and deposited in shallow sumps or wells where water, under high pressure, was added by hydraulically-controlled water guns. Resulting slurry was pumped through pipelines to the benefication plant for washing, screening, sizing and flotation. The product was sold for use as fertilizer.
IMC-Agrico contracted work to various companies for the construction of a mini-washer on mine property. Vickers Security Service, located in Lakeland, Polk County, Florida, was enlisted to provide site security for second and third shifts at the construction area. The principal operating official for Vickers Security was Tony Vickers, CEO. The victim was employed by the security service.
The last regular inspection of this operation was completed on September 4, 1997.
The accident occurred at a curve in the entrance road to the mini-washer construction site, 1.9 miles from the site. The road was approximately 2 miles long and 44 feet wide. A 25-inch high berm was provided 14 feet from the edge of the roadway. A ditch, approximately 10 feet deep with 4 feet of water, was on the other side of the berm.
The washer construction area was approximately a quarter mile wide and a quarter mile long. It was about two miles from the nearest dragline. When construction of the mini-washer was completed, material would be transferred through pipes for processing.
The vehicle involved in the accident was the victim's personal 1991, GMC Sonoma pick-up truck. The vehicle was inspected following the accident and there were no safety defects found.
The victim had a history of epilepsy and was taking medication for this condition. The family stated that when he suffered a seizure he experienced muscle cramps which caused his muscles to become rigid. When the muscles relaxed, he would fall into a deep sleep that could last for several hours, and from which he could not be awakened. Medications for epilepsy were found with his personal belongings in the security trailer located 1.9 miles from where the accident occurred.
It is probable that when the accident occurred, visibility was limited due to fog. The temperature was estimated to be between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Robert Weeks(victim)reported for work at 11:00 p.m. on December 22, 1997, his scheduled starting time. He relieved Bill Cook, second shift security guard, and began his duties which included making routine security checks of the buildings and equipment. Weeks' log indicated that he made his rounds every hour and recorded his findings. At 2:15 a.m., Weeks began noting in the log that the weather conditions were very foggy. His last entry in the log was at 5:00 a.m.
Weeks' shift was scheduled to end at 7:00 a.m. Since security was not provided during the day shift, no one was scheduled to relieve him.
On December 23, Weeks was scheduled to begin his shift at 11:00 p.m. When he did not show up to relieve Cook by 12:30 a.m, Cook notified the security service who attempted to contact Weeks through his pager and by calling his family. At 3:42 p.m., the Hardee County Sheriff's Office was called and Weeks was reported missing. Weeks' wallet and a bag containing his medication were found in the security trailer.
On December 24, an extensive aerial search was conducted of the area but had to be discontinued about 5:30 p.m. due to darkness and low visibility due to fog.
On the morning of December 25, the sheriff's department, along with mine and security personnel began a ground search of the area. An aerial search was not started until 3:00 p.m. because of severe weather.
At about 4:15 p.m., the pilot radioed that he discovered a vehicle matching the description of Week's truck partially submerged in a ditch. The truck was laying on its side with the driver's side above the water and the driver's window open. At 7:44 p.m., Hardee County Fire and Rescue units arrived and the vehicle was pulled from the water by tow trucks. When the truck was pulled from the ditch, Weeks was found on the passenger's side. There were no signs that Weeks attempted to escape the vehicle because his body was in a relaxed state and his eyes were closed. The county coroner pronounced Weeks dead at the site. Death was attributed to drowning. It was estimated that the body had been in the water for two days.
Tire tracks at the accident scene indicated that Week's truck was moving at a slow rate of speed when it traveled over the berm and slid into the water. There were no signs that the victim attempted to stop the truck.
It could not be determined whether the thick fog or Week's medical condition were factors in Week's vehicle leaving the road. The autopsy reported no injuries which would have prevented him from climbing out of the truck after it came to rest in the water.
The exact cause of the accident could not be determined. The victim may have suffered a medical emergency which could have caused the vehicle to leave the road and prevented him from getting out of the truck before he drowned.
Related Fatal Alert Bulletin: