Federal authorities are investigating the death of a 66-year-old Mississippi shipyard worker in an accident involving abrasive blast equipment.
LeeBoy Thibodeaux, of Pascagoula, MS, died in the accident, which occurred about 10:30 a.m. Monday (Jan. 30) at VT Halter Marine’s shipyard in Pascagoula, officials said.
|LeeBoy Thibodeaux, 66, was a dedicated shipyard worker who “didn’t think the office could open without him,” his daughter said.|
County Coroner Vicki Broadus told The Mississippi Press that Thibodeaux died of blunt-force trauma, but no further details were immediately available.
Inspectors from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration arrived at the shipyard Monday and began their investigation Tuesday.
News reports variously described Thibodeaux as a painter, a blaster and a blasting helper. According to all accounts, he was working in an abrasive blasting area of the yard when the accident occurred. The lack of any additional information frustrated Thibodeaux’s family into the next day.
“They told me something blew up, and then part of his face was unrecognizable,” his daughter, Beverly Williams, told WLOX-TV late Tuesday. “You just don't know what to believe.”
A shipyard flag was flown at half-staff after the accident, and Halter announced a “safety stand-down,” to conduct refresher safety training, officials said.
‘An Absolute Loss’
“Clearly, our hearts go out to the family, and we're assisting them in any way we can,” company CEO Bill Skinner told The Mississippi Press. “We lost an employee in a work-related accident, and we’re cooperating fully with the government investigation. … We really don’t have any facts at this time.”
Skinner told the Sun-Herald that Halter would “determine the cause as quickly as we can.” He added: “We loved him. He was a long-term employee. It’s just an absolute loss to us all.”
VT Halter Marine
|VT Halter Marine is the shipbuilding subsidiary of Vision Technologies Systems, Inc.|
News reports said Skinner personally phoned Thibodeaux’s wife, Edrena, to deliver the news within an hour of the accident. The couple had been married 40 years.
The family told reporters that Thibodeaux had worked at the shipyard for nine years and loved his job, often volunteering for overtime beyond his four 10-hour shifts.
“He didn’t think the office could open without him going,” Williams said.
Thibodeaux’s death was the first resulting from an injury since VT Halter Marine took over the Pascagoula yard in 2002, after the bankruptcy of Friede Goldman Halter, the Sun-Herald reported.
In 2009, Halter’s shipyard in Escatawpa, MS, was the site of an explosion that killed two subcontractors and injured two others aboard a tugboat, where a crew was cleaning and prepping a tank for painting.
The blast and fire killed Dwight Monroe, 52, and Alex Caballera, 25.
Later, OSHA traced the explosion to the workers’ use of paint thinner in a ship hull—the “explosive and toxic atmosphere” of a confined space.
OSHA fined the company $1.3 million and issued 17 willful violations, 11 serious violations and eight other-than-serious violations.
Pascagoula-based VT Halter Marine is a shipbuilding subsidiary of Vision Technologies Systems, Inc. (VTS). The company serves the commercial, defense, research and energy markets.