A juvenile who police said may have been an illegal immigrant was killed March 9 while working at Mountain Valley Recycling in Morristown, Tenn., when he got caught in a machine that densifies plastic bags and film.
The employee, who was 14 or 15 years old, apparently was on a conveyor belt trying to clear a jam when the machine restarted and he became caught in the densifier, said Morristown Police Chief Roger Overholt.
He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Inspectors from the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration are investigating the incident for potential violations of workplace safety and juvenile labor standards, and anticipate issuing a report within six weeks, according to a TOSHA spokeswoman.
The juvenile, identified in local media reports as Javier Martinez Pelayo, apparently presented documentation when he was hired that showed he was 19 years old and named Juan Carlos Martinez, police said.
``It is unknown at this time if the documents were forged or if they were authentic and belonged to someone else,'' Overholt said in a news release.
``I personally am unaware of any type of mechanism that allows employers to check the authenticity of such documentation.''
He said March 21 by telephone that it looks like Mountain Valley, a division of Sun Valley Worldwide Inc. in Delray Beach, Fla., was following proper procedures in hiring Pelayo, although he said federal immigration officials will review the hiring.
Pelayo, who was identified by his older brother, had been in the United States about a month and may have been in the country illegally from Mexico, according to police.
Pelayo had worked at the factory about a week, the company said.
It is unclear why he was on the machinery when the incident happened at about 4:40 a.m., said Mountain Valley spokeswoman Judi Anderson.
Pelayo had been assigned an entry-level job opening bales and putting them into bins, and he should not have been near the densifier. Anderson said the company had lockout devices in place.
Police said other employees noticed Pelayo missing and found him inside the densifier.
``It's been challenging at the same time as it's been heartbreaking,'' she said.
Company officials said they followed federal procedures in hiring Pelayo, and said those guidelines require companies to accept documents at face value if they look authentic, Anderson said.
Overholt said Mountain Valley has cooperated with investigators.