A 29-year-old man died Wednesday morning after he fell into an 8-foot vat of chocolate at a Camden, N.J., facility that officials think may have been operating illegally. Vincent Smith II of Camden fell from a 9-foot platform as he was tossing blocks of solid raw chocolate into a 120-degree tank used to mix and melt the chocolate for Hershey’s candy, according to Jason Laughlin, spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office.
A co-worker slammed on an emergency shutoff switch as two others tried to rescue Smith, Laughlin said, but Smith, a temporary worker, was hit by a paddlelike mechanism that mixes the chocolate. He was dead when firefighters pulled his body out.
The companies involved _Lyons & Sons and a subcontractor, Cocoa Services _ may have been operating illegally in Camden.
Lyons lacks a certificate of occupancy and business license in Camden, said Iraida Afanador, the city’s director of code enforcement. There is no record of either company at the 36th Street address in the city’s tax records.
“We need to speak to the owner to find out why he’s conducting business without a license in the city of Camden, so summons and violations will be issued,” Afanador said. “I’m curious now, because a life has been taken, and we want to figure out who is the owner.”
Lyons is listed online as an authorized member of Camden’s Urban Enterprise Zone. Afanador said she would check paper records Thursday to investigate the history of the property.
Laughlin said the plant, once a Campbell Soup Co. location, has processed chocolate for six or seven years.
A message left for Lyons at its Moorestown, N.J., office was not returned. Laughlin said he had no information on Cocoa Services; a call to the phone number listed for the company online was answered by a woman as “Lyons & Sons Inc.”
The companies are incorporated as affiliates of Transmar Commodity Group Ltd. in Morristown, N.J., according to a Transmar Web site. That company does not own the building, said Mary Johnson, its senior vice president.
“Right now we don’t have any details to discuss,” she said. “We are in the dark as well.”
Laughlin said the investigation so far indicates the death was accidental. The mixing was a daily task, he said.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration said it also was investigating the incident. Lyons does not have any prior OSHA violations. But Afanador said that because the city Bureau of License and Inspection did not know about the business, it would not have made spot safety checks and referred problems to OSHA.
In July 2002, a 19-year-old worker died when he fell into a vat for mixing and melting chocolate at a plant in Hatfield Township, Pa. An autopsy determined that the man died of asphyxiation.