By Associated Press - Wednesday, February 26, 2020

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - Police in Billings, Montana, believe a 50-year-old man who was found crushed to death in a garbage truck was a transient who had been in a dumpster before it was emptied.

Investigators are still awaiting toxicology tests on James Joseph Brown, who died on Feb. 18, said Lt. Brandon Wooley. An autopsy found he died of asphyxia and crush injuries.

A safety officer with the public works department is evaluating to see if more can be done to prevent similar situations, said Director Dave Mumford.

“You do want to make sure that we can take every precaution we can,” Mumford told The Billings Gazette. “So that people don’t get hurt, and so that our drivers don’t deal with this kind of trauma.”

It’s not unusual for city garbage truck drivers to find people in dumpsters, Mumford said. It happens about eight times a year, and once or twice a year someone ends up being dumped into a garbage truck.

“It’s a sad statement of where we are in our society. When you think of somebody getting into a dumpster to eat or get warm. It’s a very sad statement that that would happen,” he said.

Usually, if a garbage truck is approaching, a person in a dumpster will hear it and get out, Mumford said.

Several years ago, the department installed cameras in garbage trucks so drivers could watch for people in dumpsters and other hazards, such as a fire, Mumford said. But cameras may not see everything in a dumpster with a large load, he said.

In 2009, a man died in Billings under similar circumstances. At the time, police said it was believed the 22-year-old man was sleeping in a downtown dumpster when it was emptied and was unable to get out of the truck before the load was crushed.

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