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Report: Workers joking around before fatal accident (UPDATE)

By Marie Rohde

A man who was crushed by a refrigerator Tuesday was goofing around with co-workers who pushed the appliance from a fourth-floor porch, according to the Milwaukee medical examiner’s report.

The dead man was identified as Rafa Chmura, 33, of Franklin.

According to the report, Chmura and 11 others were cleaning and rehabilitating the Campus Community Apartments, a 16-unit apartment building at 805-811 N. 22nd St., Milwaukee, when the accident occurred.

Chmura was at ground level. According to the report, other workers had first removed a hot water heater from a third floor apartment, also by tossing it over a railing, and the men decided to toss the refrigerator so it would crash onto the hot water heater.

The two men who tossed the refrigerator, according to the report, said they called down to Chmura, who jokingly responded, “Go ahead, I’ll catch it.”

At about the same time, the boss called Chmura’s cell phone. His cell phone was broken in the mishap.

“He might have answered the cell phone,” according to the report, “at which time the 170 pound refrigerator was coming over the edge.”

When the co-workers saw Chmura on the ground they at first thought he was joking, but, realizing he had been hurt, they called 911, according to the report.

Chmura suffered severe trauma to the back of his head.

Chmura is survived by a wife and two school-age children.

The city of Milwaukee’s Department of Neighborhood Services is investigating whether a permit was required for the work at the apartment building.

“There is no current building permit for that property,” said Todd Weiler, a spokesman for DNS. “If they were just painting or putting up wallpaper, they wouldn’t need one. But if the work was more extensive, that could be a violation.”

According to the medical examiner’s report, the workers were cleaning up the building and installing new flooring.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration also is investigating the accident.

Anne Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the Milwaukee Police Department, said no charges will be filed in connection with the accident.

Six notices of code violations for the 16-unit building had been issued to the owner in the past four years, but all were corrected.

The building was constructed in 1903 and is owned by Wiegand Investments 805 LLC. The owner did not return calls seeking comment.

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