The death of Jose Melena, a 62-year-old grandfather who became trapped in a pressure cooker at a Bumble Bee Tuna processing plant, was accidental, the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office said Monday.
Melena died of thermal burns, coroner’s investigator Jerry McKibben told NBC4.
The six-year Bumble Bee employee died Oct. 11 at the tuna company’s plant in Santa Fe Springs. He was essentially cooked to death.
The massive steamer in which Melena died is used to sterilize cans of tuna once they are packed, the company said.
In an open letter on the Bumble Bee website, chief executive Chris Lischewski said Melena’s death was “shocking” and “devastating.”
“We miss Jose very much and our hearts go out to his wife, children, grandchildren and friends,” Lischewski wrote.
Officials closed the plant for three days in honor of Melena, and threw away all the tuna that was being processed at the time of his death, Lischewski said.
The company has implemented new safety training for all employees and brought in grief counselors.
The coroner's office completed Melena's autopsy Oct. 15, McKibben said. The state workplace safety agency, CalOSHA, is investigating the incident, but the results are not expected to be available for several months.
Melena, Lischewski said, was an experienced employee who had long worked with the machinery in which he died.
“It is still not clear how this could have happened,” Lischewski wrote.
Melena, he wrote, was a “highly-respected six-year veteran of the plant.” His job was to use a piece of equipment called a pallet jack to lift baskets filled with tuna cans into the 38-foot long cylindrical steamers that the industry calls “retorts”.
Loading the cylinders usually takes about 20 minutes, Lischewski said. Melena was found inside one of them at about 7 a.m. on the morning of his death, Lischewski said.
The company is not aware of any similar accidents ever happening with the equipment, he said.