May 17, 2023
April 7, 2024

Restaurant Manager Found Dead in a Freezer at a Louisiana Arby's

A 63-year-old Texas woman is dead after a presumed accident in a Louisiana Arby’s freezer. Her family is represented by Paul Skrabanek from the firm Pierce Skrabanek in Houston.

A shocking discovery was made at an Arby’s restaurant in New Iberia, Louisiana, a city located roughly 132 miles away from New Orleans. A 63-year-old woman, mother, and store manager was found dead inside of the freezer. She was later identified as Nguyet Le from Texas.

Investigators have stated that foul play is not suspected, but the accidental death still appears to be suspicious. According to Captain Leland Laseter of the New Iberia Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Division, “A situation like this is unusual, so we’re taking extra precautions during the investigation.”

Nguyet Le’s family has hired Paul Skrabanek of Pierce Skrabanek in Houston to help investigate and hold accountable those responsible for the potential negligence that led to such a disturbing end for their loved one. The offices of Pierce Skrabanek can be reached online or by phone at (832) 690-7000 for any information regarding this case, or for similar circumstances in need of representation. 

Statement from attorney Paul Skrabanek: “We are honored to represent the surviving children of Ms. Le arising out of this tragic event that should never have occurred." 

Body Found in Arby’s Freezer: What Do We Know Happened?

Here are the current details available regarding the discovery of Nguyet Le’s untimely death:

  • Le’s body was found by her son and fellow Arby’s employee Thursday night on May 11th during regular business hours around 6:20 PM. Le had been dropped off at the 1120 East Admiral Doyle Drive location between 8:30-9 AM to perform some opening functions before the rest of the crew arrived.
  • The preliminary report from the coroner's office is that hypothermia was the cause of death, according to attorney Skrabanek. Le’s surviving family is suing, alleging her death could have been prevented.
  • Information from authorities suggests the freezer door had a broken latch, and blood on the inside of the door implies that Nguyet Le “must have fought to get out before collapsing,” according to the family’s lawyer.
  • A former employee speaking anonymously stated that the freezer door had been an ongoing safety hazard at the workplace, and that employees routinely kept the door propped open with a box of oil because it was unsafe to shut it from within. 
  • The anonymous worker also added that management knew about the broken freezer door. “Workers have complained and everyone knows it, there were multiple work orders put in," but the repair was not made in time to save the life of Ms. Le.

Since Le was working alone when this incident occurred, she was unable to call for help, suggesting a horrible, hopeless scenario that never should have happened at all. "She was there by herself so I believe she got stuck in the freezer door and she had no one to help her get out," stated a former Arby’s employee, speaking with anonymity.

"We just really want to get out there to be able to inspect the freezer,” says attorney Skrabanek, who is awaiting a response from the franchise owner, Turbo Restaurants, on behalf of the grieving family.

Attorneys at Pierce Skrabanek are actively representing the surviving loved ones of Nguyet Le to seek justice for the circumstances surrounding her death. Contact us at (832) 690-7000 with information, or if you have similar legal needs regarding workplace safety, personal injury, or wrongful death.

What Are the Most Recent Investigation Updates? 

After locking himself in the freezer to more fully understand what Ms. Le experienced, attorney Skrabanek reported, “As soon as they opened the door, I got a feeling that I didn’t want to be in there with the door shut. It immediately pierces your clothes. Your clothes go stiff. It feels like they’re brittle. You’re completely cold to the touch. It chills you to your bone within 30 seconds.”

New discoveries from the attorney’s investigation include the following details:

  1. Evidence suggests that Nguyet Le was in the freezer for at least four to five hours, and that by the time she was found, she had completely frozen to the floor.
  2. The broken latch on the freezer that allegedly led to Le’s death has already been replaced by management. Mr. Skrabanek has asked for a temporary injunction to prevent Arby’s from making any additional changes to the freezer, as this could be considered spoliation of evidence.
  3. Skrabanek adds that the new latch also malfunctioned when he handled it, and that the lever inside the freeze which is supposed to be connected to an emergency alert system is not working either.
  4. The restaurant could have fixed the emergency alert system by turning on the phone lines, but that was never done. Text messages also show that the regional manager for this Louisiana Arby’s location never responds to complaints — about the freezer, a recent robbery, nothing.
  5. Attorney Skrabanek believes there is a dangerous culture in the management at Turbo Restaurants LLC (owners and operators of Arby’s restaurants) that contributed to the needless, preventable, and torturous death of Ms. Le.

The investigation and litigation of this case is still ongoing, but Mr. Skrabanek is confident that his research into the matter could save another person’s life by exposing these failures in maintaining “the most basic life-saving devices.”

Quote from Paul Skrabanek, attorney for Ms. Le’s family:
“This case, if we put it before a jury, I think they’re going to get pretty angry about these facts. I think that anger is going to turn into sending a message, and I think that message is going to ring throughout the nation and people that own these types of franchises are going to take note.”

What Dangers Lead to Industrial Freezer-Related Fatalities?

While the details of Nguyet Le’s death are still under investigation, here are the potential dangers of industrial and restaurant freezers that have caused previous deaths:

Becoming Trapped or Pinned

Accidental entrapment is a serious danger with walk-in freezers. These room-sized freezers often have heavy doors that can close and lock automatically, trapping individuals inside. If someone enters a walk-in freezer alone and the door closes behind them, they may find themselves unable to open it from the inside due to the locking mechanism or other safety features. 

Similarly, in industrial and commercial freezers like those in restaurants, there may be heavy shelves or items stored in cold temperatures that can fall or shift. Should a person become pinned by a heavy object at the back of a freezer out of line of sight or earshot, this could also confine them in a deadly situation.

Without timely intervention, an individual can become trapped for an extended period, leading to serious health consequences, including death. 

Life-Threatening Temperatures

Extreme cold exposure can lead to life-threatening harm faster than many might assume. Death can occur in under an hour in extremely cold conditions without protective clothing. Walk-in freezers are designed to maintain very low temperatures for storing perishable items. If a person becomes trapped inside, they are exposed to extremely cold temperatures, typically ranging from 5 to -20 degrees Fahrenheit (-15 to -29 degrees Celsius). 

Prolonged exposure to even moderately low temperatures can lead to hypothermia, which is a condition where the body loses heat faster than it can produce it. For example, when people are lost at sea in warm waters that are below the human core temperature of roughly 98.6°F (37°C), they can still develop hypothermia within hours.

Severe hypothermia can result in organ failure, cardiac arrest, and ultimately, death.

Negligent Upkeep

The above two well-known dangers of walk-in freezers could be entirely prevented with proper upkeep. Walk-in freezers in commercial establishments should have safety features such as emergency release mechanisms and alarms to prevent accidental entrapment and provide a means of escape. Regular maintenance and inspections are necessary to ensure these safety features are functioning correctly.

Restaurant freezers should also be organized in a way that prevents heavy items from toppling off high shelves. Freezers could also be stocked with emergency supplies such as a way to call for help, survive cold temperatures, and treat injuries (first aid kit) while waiting for help to arrive.

In addition, any active restaurant should have protocols before closing down the store so that no one — employee or customer — is left trapped inside of any room or area. If someone were to have a heart attack or a stroke in the restroom, for example, they should be found long before the next day’s crew arrives and provided prompt and potentially life-saving care.

Latching and locking freezers are known dangerous places in dining, chain restaurants, and fast food establishments. Deaths from such dangers should be entirely preventable under workplace safety standards, just as there are guards against injuries from boiling oil in kitchen fryers or falling injuries from slippery tiled floors.

Contact Attorneys at Pierce Skrabanek

A situation like the one that befell Nguyet Le and her family is unacceptable. Depending on the outcome of the investigation, it may be possible to sue Arby’s for issues of premises liability, workers’ compensation, and wrongful death.

The attorneys at Pierce Skrabanek have a proven history of delivering results for workers like roofing contractors, maritime employees, and those harmed by negligent premises security

If you need legal help from experienced personal injury and wrongful death attorneys, contact us at our Houston, Texas offices by calling (832) 690-7000 for a free, confidential consultation.

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