A 61-year-old East Point woman was found dead Tuesday morning after getting locked in a walk-in freezer at a downtown Atlanta hotel, police said.
For years, walk-in freezers have had safety devices that allow anyone inside to walk out, and there is evidence that Carolyn Robinson tried to exit. What went wrong has not yet been explained, and federal safety authorities will investigate.
But police don’t suspect foul play in Robinson’s death. She was a kitchen worker at the Westin Peachtree Plaza, Atlanta police Lt. Charles Hampton said during a press conference.
Video shows Robinson may have entered the freezer in the lower level kitchen area just after 8 p.m. Monday.
“We’re still combing through the video just to make sure that there’s nothing else going on,” Hampton said. “She worked in the culinary department of the hotel, so it would appear that she had a reason to be inside the freezer.”
Robinson’s family contacted the hotel when she did not return home after her shift. Hotel staffers looked for Robinson and notified police she was found dead in the freezer Tuesday morning.
Hotel spokeswoman Sally McDonald said Westin staff members are working closely with authorities in their investigation and willing to provide whatever support they can for Robinson’s family.
“We are devastated by the tragic loss of our long-time associate and member of our Westin family,” McDonald said.
Evidence does show Robinson tried to get out of the freezer, which had an exit mechanism, Hampton said.
“Obviously, I do not have the answer whether or not that mechanism worked or was properly operational,” he said.
That will be something the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will investigate, he said.
Restaurant suppliers familiar with walk-in freezers were mystified by the death because “fail-safe” escape mechanisms have been a standard feature for decades.
“It’s virtually impossible to get locked in to a walk-in cooler,” said Chuck Day, the owner of Manning Brothers Food Equipment in Athens. He’s outfitted hotels that typically have multiple freezer units the size of a household kitchen. It’s hard to imagine getting lost in one, even with the lights out, he said, adding that the escape handles on newer freezers typically glow in the dark.
They can hold food costing tens of thousands of dollars, so they are designed to be locked from the outside. Yet they are also designed so that the locking mechanism can be removed by someone locked inside.
“The entire part that holds the lock together disassembles from the inside,” said Day, who has been in the restaurant supply business for nearly four decades. Of course, he added, the person locked in the freezer would have to know about the handle and how to turn it. And that person would have to act quickly: the freezers are typically kept at 10 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.