Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"He Probably Screamed For Help"

You know how in the movies the hero is thrown onto the conveyor belt that's slowly moving him toward the jaws of death while he struggles to escape, saving himself at the last second?

Well, that's in the movies. Real life doesn't always have that happy ending.
For 100 yards, the conveyor belt pushed Alexis Rios' broken body along, jerking and twisting his limbs as he passed through piles of trash.

Police said he probably screamed for help, but the hum of machinery at the Solid Waste Authority plant was just too loud. No one heard a thing. By the time the horrifying ride was over, Rios had lost his left arm and an ear, broken his other arm and suffered internal injuries.

The belt spit him onto a heap of trash piled about 50 feet high where fellow workers found him near death.

Rios, 35, had been standing on a catwalk with his air hose about 8 a.m., cleaning debris off pipes near the conveyor belt. It was the same cleaning job he carried out each morning since landing his full-time job in December.

But Friday, his hose somehow became tangled in the conveyor belt — which should not have been running while he cleaned, police said. While trying to untangle the hose, Rios lost his balance and fell about 20 feet, slamming into the belt.

It carried the West Palm Beach resident up a steep incline, threw him down a sharp drop-off, shifted left, then right, punishing his body and forcing it through tight spaces meant to accommodate nothing but rubbish. Fellow workers didn't notice him amid the flow of trash.

Like the discarded paper and plastic around him, Rios traveled through a chute, passed through two buildings, climbed as high as 25 feet and was dropped onto the gigantic garbage pile, police said.

The trash heap was slated to be ground up, turned into steam and eventually converted into electricity. During the ordeal, which lasted less than two minutes, the conveyor belt became jammed and the operator halted it. A bit later, workers found Rios' plastic safety hat and another piece of his clothing or gear, police said.

Twenty workers set out to look for him. They found him motionless atop the pile.