JULY 2002
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One Killed, Three Wounded in Chinatown Factory Accident

From Sing Tao Chinese Daily
June 11, 2002

In the wee hours of June 10th, a fatal accident occurred at a Chinese owned spring roll factory on Broome Street. According to 5th precinct officers, the ultracentrifuge of a cabbage-drying device spun off its shaft, killing one worker and injuring three others in varying degrees. Officers are waiting for an investigative report from their Occupational Safety and Health Unit before deciding upon whether or not laws were broken. For the moment, the incident is being treated as an accident; no one has been arrested.

Situated at 329 Broome Street, "Wanxing Cunjuanma", or "Wanxing Spring Roll Ingredients", processes fresh vegetables for independent distributors. One of its primary functions is the washing, drying, and slicing of cabbage. At approximately 12:20 a.m. yesterday morning, the cabbage-drying machine malfunctioned, killing one of four Hispanic laborers, severing the arm of a second, injuring the right ear of a third, and maiming the leg of a fourth, said a 5th precinct detective. All were sent to Bellevue Hospital.

According to police, the spinning three-foot wide ultracentrifuge suddenly flew off its shaft, hitting one wall and rebounding to the other at such a speed as to kill one worker and injure all others.

The worker who received a relatively light injury to the ear immediately contacted police after the incident. The officers arrived only to witness 39 year old Queens resident José Chagulia die of his chest wound. They immediately contacted the factory owner, Peter Mak, at his home in Queens, who rushed to the scene and asked police where the injured were being treated.

After the factory closed at dawn yesterday, the daughter of one of the workers arrived at the site to remind her father to bring a certain item home, only to walk in upon the gruesome mess left behind. Blood was everywhere. Thirteen-year-old Angel and her older brother Lizeth Martinez, children of one of the injured workers, told reporters that their father has worked at the factory for fourteen hard years, six days a week, 12 hours a day, earning a measly $320.00 a week.

Because he is undocumented, he had a hard time finding better employment elsewhere. They were angry at the factory owner, to whom they say their father and his coworkers had recently complained about the waning equipment. The proprietor had only consented to repairing instead of replacing the machinery. The girl believes that the machine that malfunctioned has been in use for well over fourteen years. Family members of the other victims are planning to pursue legal action together as soon as they locate the relatives of the deceased.

This reporter attempted to contact Mr. Mak, but as of this writing has not yet received a reply. However, he managed to locate Mak’s sister-in-law, proprietor of a culinary distribution firm on East Broadway.

She learned of the incident by telephone from her brother-in-law around noon yesterday. His factory has not yet re-opened. Upon calling the factory today, she learned from an employee that Mr. Mak has gone off to seek legal representation in the matter.

Owners of neighboring establishments on Broome Street report that Peter Mak speaks Cantonese, is around 40 years old, and established his business more than two decades ago. Incidentally, he also owns "Zhongmei Mianhang" or "Zhongmei Noodle Company," located at 75 Allen Street in Chinatown, which produces only spring roll skins. As of yesterday, this business was operating as usual from 4 a.m. to 2 p.m. The factory where the accident occurred opens very early in the morning and closes late in the evening in order to coordinate distribution of its foodstuffs, said neighbors of Wanxing Spring Roll Ingredients.

Employees at Zhongmei Noodle report that yesterday morning Mr. Mak decided to close his other factory for a period of time due to mechanical difficulties.

Police stated that Mr. Mak was unable to furnish the last names or addresses of the four involved in the accident, since he only knew their first names. Ultimately, the investigators received this information from a victim’s coworkers, and then contacted their families.

According to the police, the factory has two cabbage drying machines. A spokesperson for the Occupational Safety and Health Unit, Brad Mitchell, stated that it was his understanding that a loose component within the cabbage drier was responsible for the mishap, the Associated Press reported.

Fifth precinct officials are awaiting the results of an in-depth Occupational Safety and Health Unit investigation. Afterwards, they will know whether the factory violated labor safety laws. As of now, they are processing the case as a workplace accident.

Translated from Chinese by Kelvin K. Wu

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