Victims families seek closure as salmonella outbreak trial begin - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Victims families seek closure as salmonella outbreak trial begins

Federal Courthouse in Albany, GA Federal Courthouse in Albany, GA
Jeff Almer, son of victim Shirley Almer Jeff Almer, son of victim Shirley Almer
Shirley Almer, victim (Source: Jeff Almer) Shirley Almer, victim (Source: Jeff Almer)
Defendant Michael Parnell (in white shirt) Defendant Michael Parnell (in white shirt)
Defendant Stewart Parnell (in pink shirt) Defendant Stewart Parnell (in pink shirt)
ALBANY, GA (WALB) -

Family members of victims in a deadly salmonella outbreak in 2009 say they are relieved to see the trial begin for those indicted in the case five years later.

Former Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell, his food broker brother Michael Parnell, and Georgia plant quality assurance manager Mary Wilkerson were indicted in February 2013, charged with shipping salmonella tainted peanuts and covering up lab results showing the nuts tested positive for the bacteria.

Nine people died and more than 700 were sickened in the outbreak that happened between 2008 and 2009.

Jeff Almer's mother was one of the nine people who died in the outbreak, linked to the peanut products from a Peanut Corporation of America plant in Blakely, GA.

"I think it's from a sense of closure that all the victims need, to find out what happens, good or bad," said Almer, who traveled more than 1,200 miles to be present for the trial.

"People have to realize that when you lose a loved one, it's difficult to have that happen. And when you find out you lost a loved one from something that could have been prevented, that makes it even tougher to swallow," he said.

His mother, Shirley Almer, died from salmonella in 2008 in Minnesota. Officials said she had eaten tainted peanut butter traced back to the plant in Blakely.

"We found out two weeks after her death when [Associated Press] reports were in the paper saying a northern Minnesota woman died from salmonella," Almer recalled. "We had thought she died from pneumonia. So it was a difficult way to find out the cause of death."

Almer said his mother was a determined fighter and had just beat a brain tumor when she was hospitalized again for salmonella and died.

"So she had been released after two, three months of struggling in the hospital and rehab centers, finally was back home and still was having issues with strength and regaining that with proper nutrition," said Almer. "We brought her into the hospital where she was diagnosed with severe dehydration."

Shirley Almer's death and the deaths of eight others led to one of the largest food recalls in history.

Officials said the trial could take at least two months.

"It makes me happy that it will take that long because then I will know that it's been thorough, it's been thoroughly gone over with what it needed to have done," said Almer. "We need this case to run its course and find out what the final decision is."

While Almer said he can't stay for the entire trial, he said he hopes to be a voice for the victims.

A jury of 12 plus six alternates was seated Thursday, comprised of 10 men and 8 women.

Opening statements were set to begin Friday.

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