Local News

ConAgra explosion claims fourth victim

Posted November 23, 2009 1:00 p.m. EST
Updated November 23, 2009 6:16 p.m. EST

— An explosion that tore through a Slim Jim plant in Garner last summer has claimed a fourth victim.

A spokesman for the Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill said Monday that 55-year-old Curtis Ray Poppe died last Thursday, five months after the blast at the ConAgra plant in Garner.

An obituary posted by a Hickory funeral home said Poppe's family greeted friends there Sunday. Funeral services are planned in Poppe's home-state of Wisconsin next month.

Poppe returned from the U.S. Army in 1994 after 20 years of service, according to his obituary from Drum and Willis-Reynolds Funeral Homes.

The June 9 explosion at the facility caused part of the building's roof to collapse, killing three workers instantly and sending dozens of others to the hospital. The other workers who were killed were Barbara McLean Spears, 43, of Dunn; Rachel Mae Poston Pulley, 67, of Clayton; and Louis Junior Watson, 33, of Clayton.

Investigators believe contractors installing a water heater vented natural gas inside the building, leading to the blast.

Poppe, of Stony Point, and his employer, Energy System Analysts in Hickory were named as defendants in a lawsuit filed by two workers injured in the plant. The suit also names Energy System Analysts' president as Dean Poppe. It is unclear if the two men were related.

The lawsuit also named mechanical contractor Southern Industrial Constructors in Raleigh and the Pasadena, Calif.-based Jacobs Engineering Group.

Contractors who install fuel piping are licensed in North Carolina by the State Board of Examiners of Plumbing, Heating, and Fire Sprinkler Contractors. The board's Web site showed no license issued to Poppe, Energy Systems Analysts or Jacobs Engineering.

Attorney David Stradley, who represents the workers, said Poppe's death does not change the lawsuit. Stradley said he is currently gathering depositions and hoping to visit the room where the explosion happened next month.

ConAgra laid off at least 300 employees because of the explosion.