Publix Where working can be lethal

Five workers have died in Publix's Deerfield Beach warehouse in the past eight years. Has the workplace gotten safer? Apparently not.

But on a chilly afternoon last month, the 50-year-old Marble, a slender, attractive blonde, asked husband Wally to drive her to Forest Lawn. One question had been nagging at her. So they drove 20 minutes to the new, immaculately maintained cemetery and passed through the gates to a white concrete building. Walking past several corridors lined with drawers stacked 12 high, each containing an urn, they finally located a small plaque engraved with the words, "Louis John Gallart, in loving memory, 1970-1998." Someone had left a mysterious tribute on the ledge of the marker -- a neat pile of tiny white pebbles.

Marble paused only a minute, her face blank. "It's difficult to look at a drawer and realize that's all that's left of your son," she said. Last September, on the anniversary of Louis' death, Marble suffered a nervous breakdown and has been on antidepressant medication since then. "I keep thinking about how he died; that's what drives me crazy. He was crushed and asphyxiated, and there was no one there to help him." A devout Jehovah's Witness, Marble copes with her grief by reminding herself that she will meet her son again in the afterlife.

She and her husband get back into the car and drive a short distance to the cemetery office. She asks the staffer behind the counter the question that brought her here -- who paid for the urn, and is perpetual upkeep included? Before disclosing the information, the staffer, Sharon Shikany, who's about Marble's age, gently asks about her relationship to the deceased. "He was my son," Marble explains. "He was crushed to death in an accident at work."

Leonard Pressley, Gallart's coworker, says he was surprised that Publix didn't take special safety measures after Gallart's fatal tugger accident
Sherri Cohen
Leonard Pressley, Gallart's coworker, says he was surprised that Publix didn't take special safety measures after Gallart's fatal tugger accident

Shikany shakes her head. "How awful," she says. "I have an 18-year-old son, and I worry about him all the time."

"My son had reached 28," Marble replies, "and I didn't think I had to worry about him anymore."

Shikany walks into another room, returns with a ledger book, and opens it to the page with Louis Gallart's account. It shows a photocopy of a Publix corporate check in the amount of $3092. "It's all paid for, including upkeep," she assures Marble.

Marble walks back to the car, shivering. Her husband takes off his jacket and wraps it around her bare shoulders. "It's a wasted life," she says tightly. "He had so much more living to do. I would love for Publix to understand how much pain goes on when they kill a young man. But they don't have a clue."

Contact Harris Meyer at his e-mail address:

harris.meyer@newtimesbpb.com

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