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Fallen Worker: Michael Wells, Tennessee

On Feb. 23, 2012, Michael Wells was working on a demolition crew at the Gatlinburg Wastewater Treatment Plant in Gatlinburg, Tenn. The crew was removing the remains of a huge concrete containment basin that had collapsed catastrophically in April 2011, killing two workers.

Michael was cutting rebar in a trench when the earthen walls of the trench gave way. He was struck and killed by falling debris as the trench collapsed on him. He was 57 years old.

Tennessee OSHA (TOSHA) investigators charged Michael’s employer, Roberson Construction and Land Development , Inc,. of Enka, N. C., with three serious safety violations, including failure to provide a protective system to safeguard against collapse of the trench walls. The company was fined a total of $7,200.

Michael was a native of Asheville, N. C. and spent his entire life there. He was a loving family man. Marjorie, his wife, has two daughters, Cynthia and Rebecca, by a previous marriage. They were the apple of Michael’s eye and he always referred to them as “his daughters.”

As a young man Michael had served in the U. S. Navy. He was an active member of Riverside Baptist Church in Asheville. Marjorie said that Michael equally loved fishing and gospel music. Michael and Marjorie loved to travel around Western Carolina attending auctions.

Majorie described her husband as a generous, giving man. He had willed his body to a medical school in the hope that he could help others through medical research.

Given the distance between Asheville and Gatlinburg, Michael stayed overnight in Gatlinburg during the week. The weeks before the accident had been stressful ones in which Marjorie had undergone surgery and been hospitalized. She had been released from the hospital in time for the couple to spend the weekend before the accident at home together.

On Monday, while family stayed with Marjorie, Michael returned to work in Gatlinburg. On Thursday morning, before he left for work, Michael called home to wish Marjorie a beautiful day and to tell her he loved her. It was the last time she would hear her husband’s voice.

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