GREER, S.C. (WSPA) – What happened to Duncan Alexander “Alex” Burrell Gordon, the South Carolina man who allegedly fell into a shredder at a recycling plant?
Alex Gordon is now presumed dead, after allegedly falling into a recycling shredder, but because of complications, the case is still centered around a missing person search.
7NEWS gathered information about his disappearance by interviewing family, lawyers and law enforcement agencies.
May 4, 2022, started as a typical day for the Gordon family. Michael Gordon and his son Alex Gordon were sharing a meal near midnight on the night shift at Industrial Recovery and Recycling in Greer.
After they finished eating, the father and son went separate ways.
After he finished eating around midnight, Michael Gordon went to check out the vacuum system for the extruder, which heats and shapes plastic. It had suddenly clogged up, preventing the machine from running properly. Meanwhile, his 20-year-old son, Alex Gordon had allegedly returned to the shredder at the recycling plant, located at 3100 Green Road, in Greer.
An hour later, Michael Gordon finished the repairs and returned to the shredder.
His son, however, was nowhere to be found. Maybe he went somewhere to take a break? Perhaps he’s taking a nap somewhere? Michael Gordon couldn’t be sure where he had gone, but he wasn’t there.
Then another problem arose. Something was slowing down the flow of material on a conveyor belt going to an extruder.
Michael Gordon continued looking for his son, while other workers emptied the silos feeding the conveyor and put the contents in a box to sort through later.
Workers, however, noticed something strange on the conveyor belt.
When he returned and saw the strange material, Michael turned off the shredder and went to look inside the machine itself to see if Alex Gordon had fallen inside, but no trace of human remains could be found.
They looked at the handful of material again.
“It looks like a cat,” one employee recalled someone saying at the time.
In the past, animals like possums, cats, rats and snakes had occasionally made a home in the recycling material. They would sometimes get run through the shredder by accident, resulting in something that looked like the strange material they were looking at now.
Without more evidence, the shredder was turned back on.
“If he fell into the machine, there would be blood everywhere,” an employee recalled his supervisor saying at the time.
Michael Gordon filed a missing person’s report on May 5 and told sheriff’s deputies about the box with the strange contents that came off the conveyor belt, but when deputies arrived, they were told there were no “remains” to inspect.
On May 9, Michael Gordon tried again to have authorities inspect the remains, despite being put on leave by the plant. He went to the plant with deputies and plant managers there at the same time. Michael Gordon began pulling out strange material by hand from underneath a conveyor belt.
Over a month would pass before authorities determined the remains they thought belonged to a cat instead matched Alex Gordon’s DNA.
During that time, the machine continued to run.
What happened to Alex Gordon?
Industrial Recovery and Recycling takes old plastics and carpets and grinds them up into reusable products, including polypropylene.
In order to process recyclables, the company uses a forklift that lifts a container that dumps material into the shredder, according to OSHA.
After dumping the material into the shredder, an operator at times will go up to the platform and clear the bin out of any debris, OSHA said in its citation.
“The trail of the evidence is leading us to believe that Alex Gordon may have simply fallen into the shredder while accomplishing the clearing of the bin,” said attorney Charles Hodge, who is representing the father of the missing man.
“The machine was operational at the time that we believe he cleared the debris. We don’t know that for a fact, but it makes sense. And again, we have to verify it through proper investigation, but the machine was ongoing and running. And it’s very, very powerful,” Hodge said.
Hodge said he will seek damages through the Workers Compensation Commission.
“This is peculiar because we’re in the very unfortunate position of having to have Alex declared deceased. And so that’s kind of a simultaneous process,” he said.
“We know that this machine, this particular machine had been investigated previously by OSHA. And I think it had to do with the railing,” he said.
In 2017, Industrial Recovery and Recycling was cited by OSHA for failing to protect employees working on its shredders, most of which are Vecoplan RG62/200 Single Shaft Shredders. The German-made shredders operate at 200 horsepower and pulverize almost anything put inside them, including metal.
“Two employees approximately eleven (11) feet above the cutting rotor for the Vecoplan Shredder’s, Serial Number: 9222010, feeder hopper were not protected by a guardrail system, safety net system, travel restraint system or personal fall arrest system in Building 2,” according to the 2017 OSHA citation.
The employer provided body belts and connectors to prevent employees from falling into shredders in Building 1 and 4 but not in Building 2, according to Plant Manager Brian Morton, in the 2017 OSHA report.
The top rail for the guardrail system for the feeder hopper was approximately 24.5-inches high, according to the OSHA report in 2017.
As a result of OSHA’s findings, Industrial Recovery and Recycling raised the railing platforms that surrounded the shredders to 45-inches, according to the 2017 OSHA report, in compliance with state guidelines for safety.
Duncan Alexander Burrell Gordon stood at about six feet tall, far above the approximate 3.5-foot railing that protected people from falling into the shredder. It likely wouldn’t be tall enough to stop him if he fell.
Timeline of events and delayed response
OSHA opened a new investigation at Industrial Recovery and Recycling on June 16, more than one month after family and friends suspected Alex Gordon fell into the shredder.
The investigation is complicated by the difficulty of finding more remains.
Without a death certificate, a body or even more evidence, the family is still in limbo. Alex Gordon’s disappearance continues to be a missing person’s case.
Here’s a timeline of events 7NEWS has put together, based on interviews with family, attorneys and law enforcement officials.
|May 4, 2022||Alex Gordon arrives for the night shift|
|May 5, 2022||Alex Gordon is reported missing|
|May 6, 2022||Spartanburg County deputies visit the plant but find no evidence|
|May 9, 2022||Michael Gordon shows “remains” to deputies. The remains were misidentified as nonhuman|
|June 10, 2022||Remains found at plant identified connected to Alex Gordon with DNA|
|June 14, 2022||Spartanburg County coroner is contacted and visits the plant for an inspection|
|June 16, 2022||OSHA is contacted and opens an investigation at Industrial Recovery and Recycling|
|July 6, 2022||Coroner was unable to issue a death certificate because a body was not found|
WSPA previously reported that Alex Gordon was reported missing on May 5 after he was last seen during his work on the overnight shift at Industrial Recycling and Recovery, Inc. located at 3100 Green Road in Greer.
On May 6, a uniformed patrol supervisor with the sheriff’s office visited the plant but found no evidence, according to Spartanburg County Coroner Rusty Clevenger.
On May 9, Michael Gordon, sheriff’s deputies and plant managers meet at Industrial Recovery and Recycling to inspect the “remains” found under the conveyor belt. The material was tested on the scene, but the results came back “negative” for human blood, according to the coroner.
Meanwhile, the shredder continued to run.
A month later, on June 10, an additional test for DNA of the remains found at the plant came back as a positive match for Alex Gordon. The coroner became involved in the case at this time.
After meeting with the sheriff’s office, the coroner’s office arranged additional exams for the material. The results showed the remains were consistent with human fat, microscopically minute particles of skin and small pieces of bone, according to the report from the coroner.
“The material was dried out, so it was hydrated in a lab later. After hydration, it tested positive for human blood,” Clevenger said in a report.
Those remains had been incorrectly identified as “nonhuman,” based on a test conducted at the plant, causing a delay in the authorities responding to the accident as a death. Meanwhile, the shredder continued to run, destroying additional evidence.
The search for additional remains is now complicated by the fact that 60,000 pounds of plastic material had been processed through the shredder after he was declared missing, the plant told authorities.
Overall, approximately two ounces of remains were recovered by deputies from the conveyor belt, an amount roughly the size of a golf ball, the coroner’s office said.
Attorney Buck Brandt, who is also representing the father, said it could take months to get Alex Gordon declared deceased. In the meantime, he said the discovery process of the worker’s compensation lawsuit would result in more evidence that would hopefully provide proof that Alex Gordon died in the machine.
“We have contacted the family and recycling operation about this matter. We are unable to issue a conventional death certificate in this matter. State regulations require another remedy for the family to get closure because there is no body. The family has been made aware of the process,” the coroner said in his report.
“My office is closing our investigation of [a] missing person. We will not be commenting on any questions because other agencies are investigating,” he said.
Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office is still investigating what happened to Alex as a missing person’s case.
Industrial Recovery and Recycling did not respond to a reporter’s inquiry about the investigation.