Worker crushed to death at asphalt plant

The death of a worker crushed and killed at an asphalt plant Wednesday evening was caused by an employee who, police said, turned on a conveyer belt machine by accident.

Hayward resident Tony Ponce, a 37-year-old father of two, was killed at a Graniterock plant at 1321 Lowrie Ave. around 7:30 p.m.

Safety officials and police were investigating the accident Thursday as Ponce’s wife and two young children were grieving. Ponce’s neighbor Lynnea Rodriguez said the family moved to Hayward four years ago and their children have been playing together ever since. “We’re totally shocked and heartbroken,” she said. “He was a good person, always very nice. We’re very saddened.”

Rodriguez said Ponce recently changed jobs or shifts, but she did not know how long he has worked at Graniterock. Officials from the company did not return calls.

Sgt. Joni Lee of the South San Francisco Police Department said Ponce was working with two other employees Wednesday, when one of them shut off a conveyer belt.

“Then they had him go back to turn off another part of the machine, but instead of turning it off, he accidentally turned it on,” she said. “It looks like an accident.”

She said Ponce was already dead by the time firefighters and police arrived. Capt. Juan Byron of the South San Francisco Fire Department said Ponce’s body was wrapped around an auger — a big screw that moves asphalt — and many of his major bones were broken.

It took more than two hours to free the body from the auger, he said.

“Auger-type entrapments are generally difficult to work with,” Byron said.

The plant was closed Thursday, but some of the machinery was operating inside. According to a recent statement by Graniterock, the plant celebrated 18 years without serious accidents. CalOSHA, who is investigating the incident, listed two serious accidents for Graniterock’s plant in San Jose.

Andy Marr, a plant engineer at the neighboring Central Concrete plant, said that although wear and tear injuries commonly occur, fatalities are rare in his industry.

“It’s an accident, a freak occurrence,” he said. “Everybody at the plant always looks out for each other.”

svasilyuk@sfexaminer.com

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