An industrial accident Saturday at the Western Sugar Cooperative factory in Lovell claimed the life of a North Big Horn County woman.
Big Horn County Sheriff Ken Blackburn said Anfesa Marie “Ky” Galaktionoff, 28, of Lovell and Deaver died after falling into a piece of industrial equipment at the Lovell factory.
Galaktionoff, who split time between Lovell and Deaver, was a mechanic’s helper at the factory and was working the day shift – 8 a.m to 4 p.m. — Saturday when the accident occurred, Blackburn said.
Blackburn said law enforcement was called to the factory at 9:02 p.m. Saturday to investigate “suspicious circumstances,” which turned out to be the missing worker. Lovell Police Dept. Officer Matt Koritnik and Sgt. Noe Garcia were first on the scene, and Blackburn and Deputy Bob McGuire soon followed.
The officers and deputies were informed that one of the factory employees was missing and that a thorough search of the factory had already been conducted. A friend of Galaktionoff’s in Lovell had called the factory and the LPD to report her missing, calling the Lovell Dispatch Center at 8:30 p.m. to say the Galaktionoff “did not come home from work” and that she should have gotten off work at 4, according to police dispatching logs.
The officers started an immediate investigation.
“Further investigation revealed evidence that Galaktionoff, who had been working alone, had possibly fallen into a piece of industrial equipment not part of the sugar refining process,” Blackburn said, “part of the beet flume that takes beets to the plant and returns water and debris to a filtration plant north of the factory and returns water to the beet flume. It’s a closed system.
“As a mechanic’s helper, Ky often worked alone performing equipment maintenance and conducting performance tests of equipment throughout the factory. Our efforts focused on a piece of equipment in the filtration house. Her body was located in a piece of industrial equipment.”
In a later press release, Blackburn described the equipment as a lift station that circulates water to a water flume where re-haul trucks dump the beets and the water carries the beets to the factory, a closed circulation system.
When beets arrive in the factory, the water is diverted to a building about 200 yards north of the factory to the lift station where the water is filtered and re-circulated in the closed system, the sheriff said.
During the search and recovery effort, Blackburn said, additional resources were called in including Big Horn County Search and Rescue, Town of Lovell employees, Lovell Fire Dept. personnel and Big Horn County Coroner’s office, all of whom responded between 10 and 10:30 p.m. and worked for hours to extricate Galaktionoff from the equipment.
The cause of death had not been officially determined Monday pending an investigation by the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office and the County Coroner’s office, the sheriff said, adding that Deputy County Coroner Mike Jameson and Big Horn County Coroner Del Atwood will determine the cause of death.
“The investigation is ongoing, however foul play has been completely ruled out,” Blackburn said. “It was a tragic accident.”
Galaktionoff’s body was recovered around 3:42 a.m., Blackburn said, but responders stayed at the scene until around 8:30 a.m., and deputies returned to the factory Sunday afternoon and worked late interviewing employees and continuing the investigation.
Blackburn had high praise for the responders who “struggled throughout the night” in sub zero temperatures and bitter wind chill factors as the recovery took place in a very wet, water-filled environment.
“I can’t say enough about the volunteers who responded,” Blackburn said, noting that some 14 to 16 search and rescue personnel came to the scene. “Almost everyone who was there volunteered their time. Everyone’s been seeing the cold front coming, and the brunt of the cold front was hitting that night and all of the rescuers were outside and in the elements giving 100 percent to bring somebody’s child home to them.
“People don’t often think of the difficult circumstances our rescuers have to endure and I’m grateful for them.”
Hayley McKee, a spokesperson for the Wyoming Dept. of Workforce Services, said her agency was notified about the death on Sunday and an Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspector was on site at the factory Monday investigating the death of Galaktionoff.
She noted that factory operations were suspended for a time and have since resumed.
“It’s a sad day at the Western Sugar Cooperative,” a company release issued Monday stated, noting that the company and its employees are mourning the “tragic death” of Galaktionoff.
“The thoughts and prayers of everyone at Western Sugar go to the family and friends of our employee,” the statement continued. “The company is also offering counseling to employees at the Lovell plant. The company’s focus right now is on supporting employees and comforting the family of the deceased worker. Western Sugar places the highest value on the safety of its employees.”
The company release added that after the initial response and investigation by the Big Horn County Sheriff’s office, Western Sugar is conducting its own investigation into the incident and is cooperating fully with OSHA in their investigation. The cooperative is also monitoring operations at all of its facilities in Colorado, Montana, Nebraska and Wyoming to ensure that they are running safely.
Blackburn said the company was very cooperative during his investigation.
“I can’t say enough about Western Sugar and their cooperation,” he said. “Everything we asked of them they were more than willing to assist us with including shutting down part of the factory during the investigation.
“I want to make it clear that it’s called a sugar refinery. It’s a refining process. Refining, by definition, means purifying, and the closed circulation system had no bearing or involvement on the sugar production of the factory. It was a closed system largely outside the factory.”
Blackburn said Galaktionoff had lived in the Lovell area for quite a while and was the daughter of Colleen Savage of Wasilla, Alaska. She attended Lovell schools for several years.
Galaktionoff loved horses and riding and was close to Tom Edwards, who she called her adopted grandfather, Blackburn said. She said Ky at times lived at Edwards’ ranch just east of Deaver and also resided in Lovell.
“Our hearts go out to her family members,” the sheriff said.
A memorial service for Anfesa Marie “Ky” Galaktionoff will be held on Friday, Jan. 10, at 5 p.m. at Haskell Funeral Home in Lovell.
by David Peck