Victims of ConAgra blast laid to rest
Posted June 14, 2009 12:30 p.m. EDT
Updated June 15, 2009 5:57 a.m. EDT
DUNN, N.C. — Families began to bury their dead Sunday, five days after an explosion ripped a hole in the Slim Jim plant in Garner.
Dozens of workers and contractors were injured in the blast, and three workers – Barbara McLean Spears, 43, of Dunn; Rachel Mae Poston-Pulley, 67, of Clayton; and Louis Junior Watson, 33, of Clayton – were killed. About 300 people were working at the time.
Spears a 'second mom'
Spears' funeral was held Sunday afternoon at Cape Fear Regional Center in Erwin. The crowd applauded when co-workers from ConAgra were asked to stand during the funeral service.
“This is the first time that I’ve ever seen this building this full, so that means a lot to the family, I’m sure,” said Carolyn Talley, victim’s friend.
Spears, who was married one year ago this June to her “inseparable” partner of 15 years, Anthony Spears, also leaves her 61-year-old mother, Bertha McLean, two brothers and two nieces.
Anthony McLean, 38, of Ocala, Fla., and his brother, Bradford, 33, of Dunn, searched in vain for the sister they considered a second mother when they couldn’t find her among other survivors or on lists of those being treated at hospitals.
She doted on her brothers and nieces. When asked about her hobbies, her relatives on Friday responded: “Family – that’s what she did.” Spears spent her time visiting, talking on the phone to and cooking for her loved ones.
“This is the longest time I’ve gone without speaking to her,” Anthony McLean said about the days since his sister’s death.
“We were like the Three Stooges,” said Bradford McLean. “She was more like a second mom.”
Pulley was a 'good lady'
Pulley’s funeral was also held Sunday afternoon at the Springfield Baptist Church in Garner, according to Hood Funeral Home. More than 1,000 people came to say goodbye to Pulley, a mother to seven children.
"No one can say anything bad about her, because there was nothing bad about her. She was just a good lady,” Wendy Wilder said.
Wilder said Pulley was a family friend and not her only personal connection to the ConAgra disaster. Her nephew was Lewis Junior Watson, another worker killed in the blast.
"If he had a shirt, and you needed a shirt, he would take the shirt off his back and give it to you. This is how good he was," Wilder said.
Watson died saving a co-worker
Watson, 33, of Clayton “did whatever he could for anybody,” said his wife, Terri Watson, 38, now a widow with three children. In addition to his almost 15-year job at the ConAgra Foods Inc. plant in Garner, Watson also was a volunteer on the plant’s safety team, Terri Watson said.
Relatives said coworkers told them Watson was on his way out of the plant after the 11:30 a.m. explosion on Tuesday.
Watson went back in to help the co-worker.
"He was almost out," said Richard Johnson, the family's pastor. "He went back to help her."
When Watson went back in the building, the structure caved in on both of them, family members said.
Watson, who was a machine operator at the plant, also had a lawn service and was actively involved in his church, St. Peter’s Disciples of Christ, in Smithfield. And he loved his family, Terri Watson said Friday.
“He loved spending time with me,” his wife said. “He always made time for us.”
The couple had a 14-year-old son and two daughters, ages 16 and 18. Their wedding anniversary would have been Sunday.
Watson's funeral will be at 11 a.m. Monday in the Johnston Community College auditorium.
Injured remain in burn center
Four employees remained in critical condition at the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals, officials said Sunday. One employee was listed in fair condition and two were in good condition.
Some of the patients suffered burns over 40 to 60 percent of their bodies, Dr. Bruce Cairns said. Cairns said the injuries of these burn patients vary across the body. Patients in fair condition can be in a great deal of pain because their nerves are intact and can feel the pain, Cairns said.
Though a long road of recovery is ahead, Cairns said people with critical burns have a chance for recovery.