State investigating tree business after worker’s death in wood chipper accident

Mason Scott Cox
Mason Scott Cox Debra Sisk via WBTV

The N.C. Department of Labor has begun investigating the death of a worker who was pulled into a wood chipper at a Kings Mountain home.

Mason Scott Cox, 19, of Gastonia, was pronounced dead Saturday at a Hawthorne Road home where he had been working. Police determined Cox’s death was accidental.

Inspectors with the Department of Labor are investigating whether any safety and heath standards were violated by Belmont-based Crawford's Tree & Stump Grinding Service, spokesman Neal O’Briant said Tuesday.

Inquiries involving a death typically take three or four months, he said.

Inspectors looking into deaths involving tree trimming and related services examine whether employees received proper training, whether they were wearing appropriate protective equipment and whether the machinery was being operated according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, O’Briant said. That includes whether any of the machine’s guarding had been circumvented, he said.

The maximum penalty for a serious violation is $7,000. The department considers the gravity of the violation, the size of the business, the company’s good faith as evidenced by its safety and health program, and previous violations, O’Briant said.

“We can cite a company for multiple violations,” he said. “The maximum penalty for a violation can also be multiplied by 10 if we cite the company for willful violations.”

Crawford’s has no previous safety violations, according to federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration records.

But a check on the company found it has an “F” rating with the Better Business Bureau for failing to respond to five customer complaints. Most focus on business transactions, not safety concerns.

However, a June complaint focuses on a tree that fell on a house. A homeowner said a Crawford’s crew was halfway through removing a tree from a neighbor’s yard when the person had the workers come over to remove a tree.

As workers cut the person’s tree, it fell onto the roof of the house, the homeowner said.

The company’s owner, John Crawford, didn’t return a call from the Observer on Tuesday.

Cox’s mother, Debra Sisk, said that the teen had very limited experience in the tree removal industry, but he had worked on cell towers before. She questioned whether he was being supervised when the accident happened, reports WBTV, the Observer’s media partner.

She said it was horrifying to learn how her son had died.

“I just started screaming,” Sisk told WBTV. “It’s bad enough that he’s gone.”

Staff writer Ames Alexander contributed.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak