TERRE HAUTE —
A Connecticut man who had sought shelter inside a trash bin died of suffocation early Thursday morning after being trapped inside a garbage collection truck that emptied the bin he and his girlfriend were inside.
Franschon Barr, 46, died of compression asphyxia, Vigo County Coroner Dr. Susan Amos said.
An autopsy conducted Thursday by forensic pathologist Dr. Roland Kohr also showed that at some point as Barr’s body entered the truck, he sustained a head injury that likely rendered him unconscious, Amos said. She added that Barr was probably not aware of being suffocated.
Toxicology test results are pending.
A woman also dumped inside the truck sustained serious injuries and was airlifted to an Indianapolis area hospital for treatment. Her name was not released by the Terre Haute Police Department on Thursday.
Terre Haute Police Chief John Plasse said police and fire crews responded just after 6 a.m. Thursday to the Hilton Garden Inn at Seventh Street and Wabash Avenue on a report of people trapped inside the garbage truck’s cargo area.
“When the truck driver reached the [scene], to access the Dumpsters there is a gate he must open,” Plasse said, “so when he got out of the truck, he heard the female yelling. He realized she was inside the truck and he called 911.”
Emergency crews reached her through the top of the truck, Plasse said.
Police learned that Barr and the woman had taken shelter from the rain inside a trash bin outside a store at 11th and Locust streets, and that they were sleeping in the bin when it was emptied.
The truck had made two or three other collection stops after that before the driver heard the woman yelling.
The truck is a front loader, which lifts the garbage bin up and over the front of the truck to dump into the cargo compaction area, Plasse said.
The process is noisy and the driver likely did not hear the woman’s yells for help until after he exited the truck, he added.
Republic Services representative Kenny Depasse said that Barr’s death was an unfortunate event, and that drivers go through a comprehensive training and safety program that includes the scenario of finding a person in a trash collection bin.
“We do our best to train our drivers on what to do when something like that happens,” Depasse told the Tribune-Star on Thursday afternoon.
“In talking with the driver, we found out that people sleeping in Dumpsters is more common than you’d think,” Plasse told the Tribune-Star. “He mentioned that several times he’s had people wake up and then pop up from under the lid.”
Plasse said the bin that the man and woman were sleeping in likely contained mostly cardboard trash than food or other foul-smelling refuse.
“That’s sad to think that that’s their best option to sleep in,” Plasse said. “For the most part, there is someplace to go.”
Lighthouse Mission CEO Tim Fagg told the Tribune-Star that the man stayed at the homeless mission on April 3, but then voluntarily left after 24 hours.
“It’s just a shame,” Fagg said. “He was a pretty talented young man. He was trained in culinary arts.”
The man could have gone back to the Mission, Fagg said. “I’m not sure why he was sleeping in a Dumpster.”
The man had come to Terre Haute from Connecticut, Fagg said, saying he did not know anything about the woman in the trash bin.
Amos, the county coroner, said she talked to Barr’s mother on Thursday, and the woman was surprised and upset that her son had been sleeping in the trash bin. The coroner said that Barr had followed his girlfriend to Terre Haute, and the two were supposed to be staying with a relative, according to information from Barr’s mother.
The Light House Mission has the capacity for more people, Fagg said. In the event of bad weather, he encourages the homeless to stay there rather than sleep in trash bins.
In some cases for some people, lodging has been terminated for those who violate mission rules, which include no drinking or drugs. Also, the sheltered must be in by 9 p.m. and attend chapel.
Even when lodging has been terminated, Fagg said the mission will be lenient during bad weather. “If the weather is not nice, come on over, talk me into it. I’m easy,” he said.
Some of his staff are upset and wished they could have done more to get the man to stay at the mission longer, he said.
“It’s upsetting. We tried to encourage him to stay. We care about folks,” Fagg said. But in the end, the mission can’t force people to stay, he said.
Reporter Sue Loughlin contributed to this report. Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.