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Two dead, two injured in industrial accident at Lawrence’s MagnaGro International

Fire fighter, employee treated and released from LMH

Lawrence firefighters exit MagnaGro International at 600 E. 22nd covered with a purplish liquid. Emergency crews responded to the scene of a fatal industrial accident Thursday afternoon.

Lawrence firefighters exit MagnaGro International at 600 E. 22nd covered with a purplish liquid. Emergency crews responded to the scene of a fatal industrial accident Thursday afternoon.

April 1, 2010, 2:48 p.m. Updated April 1, 2010, 11:06 a.m.


Fatal accident at MagnaGro International

MagnaGro International will continue operations following an industrial accident that left two employees dead. The investigation into the incident is ongoing.

22nd and Delaware

Two people are dead and two were injured after an industrial accident at MagnaGro International, 600 E. 22nd St., according to Mark Bradford, Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical chief.

Emergency crews responded at 2:38 p.m. Thursday to the site of the incident, near 22nd and Delaware streets. Once at the scene, crews were told two people had fallen into a tank containing an unknown substance.

Bradford said the substance wouldn't normally be toxic, but because of the close quarters inside the tank, it was harmful. One employee was pronounced dead at the scene and a second one died at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. Another worker was treated at LMH and released on Thursday.

Jeff Novorr, vice president at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, said chemical residue left by an ambulance that had been at MagnaGro contained about 80 percent cane molasses. Novorr said cane molasses — when in a poorly ventilated area — converts to carbon monoxide.

"Obviously, in a non-ventilated area, it is fatal," Novorr said.

After responding to the emergency call Thursday afternoon, crews from Lawrence Douglas County Fire and Medical entered the building in HazMat suits and were washed off by other firefighters when they exited the building. One firefighter was taken to LMH with respiratory injuries that Bradford said were not life-threatening.

An LMH nursing supervisor Thursday night said both the injured worker and firefighter were both treated and released from the hospital.

Lawrence police surrounded virtually the entire building with crime scene tape.

LMH closed its ambulance bay about 3:30 p.m. Thursday, and Novorr said it reopened about 7:30 p.m. The emergency room remained open, LMH representatives said.

The bay is specially designed to contain chemical contamination, and this is the first time the special characteristics have been employed. Novorr said he and other LMH officials are confident the contamination had been contained to the bay.

Names of the three people are being withheld, pending notification of family members.

MagnaGro General Manager Raymond Sawyer, when reached about two hours after the incident, said he was in South Dakota and had no knowledge anything had occurred at the business.

MagnaGro International has a history of environmental incidents at its facility at 600 E. 22nd St.

In February 2009, Sawyer pleaded guilty in federal court to illegally discharging waste from a fertilizer operation into the city’s sewer system. According to court records, Sawyer was sentenced to five years of probation for the misdemeanor offense. He and the company also were required to pay a $240,000 fine related to charges, which stemmed from a 2001 incident.

The company formulates chemical fertilizers for resale across the nation.

The case came about after investigators with the Environmental Protection Agency in September 2007 alleged Sawyer and the company were discharging waste from the fertilizer operation into the sewer system, using a hose inserted into a toilet. Investigators determined the company had been doing that for 10 years.

In January 2008, Lawrence fire and medical crews responded to an accidental spill at the site. According to the fire and medical department, employees of the company apparently were transferring a chemical, a plant growth activator called Phypogroxtra, from one tank to another when a leaky valve led to the spill. The chemical was washed into the street, where a passerby spotted it and reported it to authorities.

Then again in October 2009, crews responded to the site to contain another spill. At the time, Lawrence fire and medical officials said 200 to 250 gallons of fertilizer-like material leaked from a tanker truck into an area ditch.

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Randall Barnes 8 years, 2 months ago

2 people pulled from a tank of molasses both are in cardiac arrest at this time

hope they come out of it

Randall Barnes 8 years, 2 months ago

believe it might be the tofu company east of 22nd and lenard.

RogueThrill 8 years, 2 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Devin745 8 years, 2 months ago

It's a fertilizer company. I work next door to it

Tammy Copp-Barta 8 years, 2 months ago

Just curious .. why was the coroner's office notified? Is this routine?

Randall Barnes 8 years, 2 months ago

when the medic unit transpotred 2 to the hospitol 1 was dead and the other in cardiac arrest. just what i heard on the scanner.

Tammy Copp-Barta 8 years, 2 months ago

OH my, how sad ... prayers to the families ...

Greg Counts 8 years, 2 months ago

How is that place still in business after being caught illegally dumping chemicals into the sewer system for over 10 years?

damnitimpissed 8 years, 2 months ago

I can't believe this place is still operating. It should definitely be shut down; it is clearly a public health hazard. At the very least, I don't want it in my city.

LoveThsLife 8 years, 2 months ago

This is horrible. My thoughts are with the families of these individuals.

Boston_Corbett 8 years, 2 months ago

I like the new green box and moderation for these types of news stories. Long overdue. Thanks LJW.

davisnin 8 years, 2 months ago

I imagine if Sawyer was doing something as obviously illegal as discharging chemicals through the toilet, he probably wasn't a stickler for OSHA standards either.

gsxr600 8 years, 2 months ago

As a business, shouldn't you know what's in your tanks? Just saying...


Paula Kissinger 8 years, 2 months ago

They do know what is in the tanks. The call was dispatched to LDCFM that people fell into a vat of molasses.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 8 years, 2 months ago

"trying to determine what the substance was"

Maybe THAT is why people are dying. It does seem reasonable that if men are in a tank, there is someone around who is sure of what is in the tank and if it is safe!

PeoplePetsnRespect 8 years, 2 months ago

Business owners who value their employees , value safety. It doesn't sound like this one cares much about its employees, the community or anything unrelated to their bottom dollar. I hope there is some accountabiity with this company depending on what the investigation proves. My heartfelt prayers are with these families and co-workers tonight.

frank regnier 8 years, 2 months ago

"Sawyer pleaded guilty in federal court to illegally discharging waste from a fertilizer operation into the city’s sewer system" Okay, now someone explain to me how this company or this person is allowed to operate a business in this town. Jeez, when is our nation going to wake up and take serious action against those who disregard safety of others. Keep companies like this out of our town. We don't need them here. Put them all in prison and toss the key!

AnnaUndercover 8 years, 2 months ago

Oh my gosh. Praying for the families of these people. Please ask the community for everything you need. We want to be there for you.

happy_go_lucky 8 years, 2 months ago

I am glad with the green box in the article. Prayers go out to the families of those deceased, and I hope that the owner of the company receives some repercussions for the terrible practices the company undertakes.

tomatogrower 8 years, 2 months ago

Is this why there are a couple of helicopters flying overhead?

kucourtsider 8 years, 2 months ago

tomatogrower - That would be my guess. I got home early from work and there were several flying around.

kernal 8 years, 2 months ago

This is so sad. Given the history of this company, there has to be some accountability by both the owner and/or general manager. LJW, Is Raymond Sawyer not the owner?

My prayers for all the families affected by this incident, as well.

Liberty275 8 years, 2 months ago

Condolences to the family and friends.

Cynthia Schott 8 years, 2 months ago

Hard to imagine anything more dreadful than that...

puddleglum 8 years, 2 months ago

what is the green box? I don't see it.

cntrygrl 8 years, 2 months ago

My prayers and condolences go out to these families. My heart is hurting for them.

I don't understand how this company is still in business! Why isn't there an OSHA Rep parked there permanently watching EVERYTHING Sawyer does? If they are going to allow him to stay open, then they need to make sure things are being done correctly.

I hope that they are held accountable for this tragedy. Even if it was a complete accident, it seems hard to believe that, after all that has occurred at this business, it feels like something could have been done to prevent it.

Flap Doodle 8 years, 2 months ago

Thanks to the emergency responders who do such difficult and dangerous work.

geekyhost 8 years, 2 months ago

My condolences to the families. This is so sad.

Danielle Brunin 8 years, 2 months ago

This is horrific. My thoughts are with their loved ones.

Uhjh 8 years, 2 months ago

Does this company have a tax break? Such a sad thing there are some very broken famlies God bless them. Just hope they determine the cause and fix it.

sinkorswim 8 years, 2 months ago

How horrible. Sending my condolences to family, friends, and coworkers. Thanks to all of the fire and medical crews for a job well done. Also a big thank you to LJW for the new green box. Long overdue for stories like this one.

gphawk89 8 years, 2 months ago

"How many 'incidents' are needed at a facility like this before some real action is taken and not just a slap on the wrist?"

This incident ought to do the trick. Lots more attention paid and more agencies involved when there's a death. Sadly, a tragedy like this what it often takes to fix a dangerous situation. Prayers to the victims families.

BradyandPipa 8 years, 2 months ago

This is very sad to me. I work just down the street from this site. I am still amazed that this company has not been shut down due to all the previous offenses for safety violations and environmental damage they have caused. We saw the emergency vehicles outside for the millionth time and assumed something was wrong, but never imagined it would be this horrible outcome. My thoughts are with the friends and family of all the folks that have lost a loved one due to this tragic event.

flybynight 8 years, 2 months ago

Thanks emergency responders! Heard one of the firefighters crawled through a small opening in the tank, wallowed through the substance in the IDLH environment to retrieve the two men, lifting them up and out the hole. Too bad they did not survive. My condolences to the families.

Sharon Aikins 8 years, 2 months ago

Sad, sad, sad. So sorry for the victims families.

Paul R Getto 8 years, 2 months ago

Because of the sensitive nature of this story, editors are approving comments before they go live. ............Comments that are submitted will be reviewed .....

I just noticed this and laud the editors for this action. This will contribute to a more productive cyber community for Lawrence and the area. This tragedy is a good reminded how precious and fragile life is and how we all must attend to safety issues. Also, kudos to the rescue units who perform difficult and often terrible jobs many days of the year. My condolences to the families.

sassykansan 8 years, 2 months ago

My heart goes out to all the families and friends of those involved in this tragedy. Thank you so much to all of the first responders, firemen, paramedics and medical personnel who put themselves on the line every day for our community.

naturalist 8 years, 2 months ago

My heart goes out to the families of the people involved in this tragedy. I wonder why dumping chemicals is only a misdemeanor? And a truck leaking chemicals into the ditch, yeah, right. Undoubtedly intentional dumping into the ditch but when caught, it became accidental. Sounds like chronic criminal negligence. This place should be shut down; unfortunately that would mean more people losing jobs.

Danielle Brunin 8 years, 2 months ago


I totally agree with you, but better to lose jobs than to lose lives. BTW, we have amazing emergency responders in this town, just to add my praise to the chorus.

localgirl9 8 years, 2 months ago

First, my condolences to the families. Nothing I can say or do will change what happened, but I am so very sorry for your loss. Second, my congratulations to the Journal World for moderating comments on stories like this. I am all for free speech, but sometimes just because something can be said doesn't mean it should be. I was almost afraid to start reading the comments on this story because I have seen how ugly it can get in here and how quickly that can happen. Thank you for your efforts to uphold the ideals of free speech and common decency. Finally, I want to know more about this accident. How preventable was it? Are there issues with this companies practices? How will the company prevent another such accident?

AngryJarhead 8 years, 2 months ago

By not posting my comment I see that bias journallism is going strong and that it is more important for the media to shape opinion than allowing the public to be heard and allowing us to form our own opinions. I thought you guys would be above that, but I guess I was wrong. I will find another source for my news source. Please get rid of my account as I will not be needing it any more since you don't want to post what I write.

Coyote1 8 years, 2 months ago

Hello, I am the father of Brandon Price. I would like to thank all of you for your prayers. Now I know where the strength I could not have manifested myself must have come from. I pray that God blesses each and everyone of you for including us in your own hopes and prayers. My son was quiet, yet wise, generous to a fault, kind to all he met. I wish you all could have known him, his crooked grin and gentle laugh could warm your heart all the rest of a rough started day. To the family of the man who tried to save my son and perished with him.....I have not the words. "No greater gift can a man give, than his life for another, and in his death, he shall find life." I borrowed these. To the fire fighter and other man who risked there lives, you two along with him are my heros for life. God bless you all the days of your lives, and thank you.

lstau2 8 years, 2 months ago

We work next door and when names were released we were sad to hear Brandon and Roy. None of us were close, but every time we spoke Brandon and Roy were very kind. Prayers go out to the families. We are very sorry for your loss, and grateful we got to cross paths with these men.

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