ROCKVILLE – County police are investigating an accident that killed a woman working at a transfer station on June 13.

Gladis Loren Melendrez Fuentes, 35, was working at the Shady Grove Transfer Station on the 16100 block of Frederick Road when she was suddenly trapped under a pile of brush.

Authorities received a call about the incident at 1:45 p.m., Montgomery County Police (MCP) spokesperson officer Rick Goodale said.

“Officers and fire rescue personnel responded to the Shady Grove Transfer Station for a report of an individual who was possibly trapped under debris in the transfer station,” said Goodale. “When officers got there, they located a 35-year-old female who was unfortunately deceased at the scene already.”

Melendrez Fuentes was working for the subcontractor EARN, hired by county contractor Maryland Environmental Services, at the station, spokesperson Neil Greenberger said. The transfer facility has multiple units, such as trash, recycling and yard trim. County employees work on the site, but the yard trim collection is operated by a contractor.

The Department of Environmental Protection, directed by Adam Ortiz, oversees the yard trim facility. Ortiz said part of Melendrez Fuentes’s job involved removing trash or asking someone to remove trash from the yard trim if she saw any. Ortiz said the late lot attendant was married.

“She was a lot attendant, which the duties involved directing truck traffic as they dump the yard trim.  And also making sure that garbage and debris, that all the organic material is clear of debris,” Ortiz said. “She was a contract worker in a yard trim area – basically, a lot attendant – and she… was crushed during the operation of the lot.”

MCP started a death investigation on the day of the incident. Goodale said that as of June 17 the death investigation was “essentially closed,” because police did not suspect foul play.

“The cause of death (for Melendrez Fuentes) is multiple injuries, and the manner is accidental,” wrote Bruce Goldfarb, spokesperson for the office of the chief medical examiner, in an email dated June 17.

The county owns the property where the incident took place, according to records in the State Department of Assessments and Taxation real property database. County Council President Nancy Navarro (D-4) said June 14 that she was “deeply saddened” by the news of the accident. “My heart breaks for her family and friends during this difficult time of mourning,” Navarro wrote.

County Executive Marc Elrich shared his condolences in a statement following the incident, saying that the county made grief counselors available for staff at the station.

“The Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection is a part of a big family of county workers, and we are all affected by this tragic loss,” Elrich wrote.

“I am terribly saddened by the tragic accident that took the life of Gladis Loren Melendrez Fuentes,” wrote Elrich. “My deepest condolences go out to her family, friends, and colleagues. This is a very difficult day.”

What led to her death is “under investigation,” Greenberger said.  

It is unknown at this time if any protocols were broken, but the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health (MOSH) – Division of Labor and Industry will be conducting an investigation as to the procedures that were being followed at the facility, Greenberger said.

“We’re just going to be looking at the incident and how our procedures and policies that are in place generally work and what happened on that day as well,” said Greenberger.

Greenberger said the accident ended the transfer station’s perfect record of zero accidental deaths. Officials say they have not received word of any lawsuits being filed due to the accident.

“We’ve never had a fatal accident like this” at the Shady Grove facility, Greenberger said.  

According to Navarro, the council will be working together with the county executive to conduct a separate investigation into the incident.

“The Council will work with County Executive Elrich to determine what caused this horrible incident,” Navarro wrote. “I appreciate the work of the firefighters, emergency medical technicians, police officers and other emergency personnel who responded to this tragic call and to the grief counselors who are providing services to the workers at the Shady Grove Transfer Station.”  

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