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Fallen Worker: Don Storey, Tennessee

Don Storey worked at the Gatlinburg Wastewater Treatment Plant on Banner Road in Gatlinburg, Tenn. On April 5, 2011, he and a co-worker, John Eslinger, were working at the control panel in the Flow Control building when the east wall of the adjacent containment basin suffered a catastrophic collapse, flattening the Flow Control building and crushing both men.

Don was born in Connecticut and grew up in Florida, where he worked as a highly skilled cabinet maker. He was a single parent, devoted to raising his four children while living in Florida. In 2007, Don and Ashley, his fiancée, moved the family to Tennessee. The newest member of the family, their son Jacob, was 18 months old at the time of the accident. Jacob adored his father. They had a regular ritual in the morning where Jacob would wake up early with his dad, wait while he took his morning shower, and then sit down to orange juice and a bowl of breakfast cereal before watching from the door as Don left for work. Jacob often waited by the door and watched for his dad when it was time for him to return.

In order to have more time with his family, Don had transferred six months before his death from the Pigeon Forge Wastewater Treatment Plant to a first shift position at the Gatlinburg facility. Don was a valued worker and was encouraged by his supervisors to study for advancement in the company.

Don loved the outdoors. His family hiked and camped and took full advantage of living so near the Smokies. Don also had a passion for baseball, and played on his high school team. He was a life-long Red Sox fan, and passed his love of the game along to his family, boys and girls alike. Often on summer evenings the entire family would go to a baseball game together in nearby Sevierville or watch one on TV. In his last years, thanks to Ashley’s influence, Don had become an avid golfer.

In their investigation of the incident, federal OSHA was brought in to assess conditions at the plant. They found no problems with plant management by Don’s employer, but concluded that the catastrophic collapse of the wall was due to defects in the containment basin’s concrete wall construction. Litigation is still continuing about those defects and who should bear responsibility for the accident.

An obvious question: What kind of screening process does Gatlinburg- and other cities across Tennessee- use to select the contractors who design and build facilities? Could this disaster have been averted had greater attention been paid to the quality of the contractor during the bidding process for the basin construction?

To add to the tragedy of the basin collapse in which two workers lost their lives, another worker died while trying to repair the damaged site. The same question remains: What could the City of Gatlinburg have done differently during the bidding process to ensure greater attention to safety and worker protection? These stories are a harrowing reminder of what can happen when public tax dollars are awarded without adequately scrutinizing contractor safety records.

Click here to learn about National COSH’s Responsible Contractor Campaign.

Read other stories of fallen workers.  Learn more about Workers’ Memorial Week of Action.