That's a horribly insensitive reaction, I know. And my only defense is that I live in a nation of "chocoholics." Heck, I consider Kit Kat Bars, Junior Mints, Raisinets, and Nestle Crunch Bars to be four of God's greatest inventions. And I probably wasn't the only American who read the New Jersey story and thought, "You know, when it's my turn to go, I wouldn't mind drowning in a vat of chocolate. It would be sort of poetic. Kind of like Homer Simpson choking on a donut."
After regathering my dignity enough to realize that there's nothing funny about someone dying in a workplace accident, I had this thought: I wonder if there is a legal angle to this story? Turns out there is.
First, here is what happened: A 29-year-old man was working at a cocoa factory in Camden, New Jersey, when he fell into an eight-foot tank for melting chocolate. Here's how the Camden Courier-Post describes the incident:
Vincent Smith II of Camden was working on a platform above an 8-foot chocolate-melting tank when he fell around 10:30 a.m. at Cocoa Services in East Camden.
A co-worker immediately hit an emergency shutoff switch and two other employees tried to pull Smith from the vat. However, the victim was fatally struck by a large paddle that mixes the chocolate, said Jason Laughlin, a spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor's Office.
Firefighters removed Smith from the vat. He was pronounced dead at the scene at the plant in the 700 block of North 36th Street.
It sounds like Smith might have survived if he had not been struck by the paddle:
Smith and two other men were loading chunks of chocolate into the tank when he fell through an opening into the tank, Laughlin said. The tank heats the chocolate at temperatures up to 120 degrees.
"It appears to be an accident," Laughlin said. "This man unfortunately fell into this hole and passed away before anyone could rescue him."
Smith was a temporary worker at the factory, which melts down pure chocolate and sells the melted product to companies that sweeten it and make it into candy, Laughlin said.
What about the legal angle? We now have a report that the cocoa factory was operating illegally, without a license. A code enforcement director in Camden said the factory had been cited for not having a continued certificate of occupancy and a business license:
A spokesman for the company said its owner was trying to clear up the "misunderstanding" and that the city was aware of the business on North 36th Street.
"There wasn't ever any attempt to operate illegally," firm spokesman Kevin Feeley said. "The company believed it had all the records to operate legally."
Sounds like the company is doing some serious backtracking. Will legal actions grow out of this accident? I think you can bet on it.