Arby’s manager froze to death in restaurant freezer, and son found her body, suit says

A woman working as a general manager at an Arby’s became trapped in the restaurant’s walk-in freezer while performing opening tasks, according to a new lawsuit.

As other employees had arrived for work, Nguyet Le “panicked once locked inside and beat her hands bloody trying to escape or get someone’s attention,” the lawsuit filed May 25 says.

Le, 63, froze to death at the restaurant in New Iberia, Louisiana, on May 11, according to the lawsuit, which says preliminary autopsy findings list hypothermia as the cause. Now, New Iberia police are investigating the incident after they were called to a report of a body found in a freezer at 6:19 p.m. that day, McClatchy News previously reported.

Her son Nguyen Le, another Arby’s employee, found her body after he arrived for his restaurant shift, the lawsuit says. She was found dead in the evening, according to KADN News 15.

Now, Nguyen Le and his three siblings are suing Arby’s over her death. Additionally, Turbo Restaurants and Sun Holdings, which are based in Texas and own several Arby’s restaurants, are named as defendants, an original petition filed in Harris County District Court in Texas shows.

An Arby’s spokesperson told McClatchy News in a statement on May 26 that the franchisee in New Iberia is “cooperating fully with local authorities as they conduct their investigation” over the “tragic incident.”

A regional director of operations for Turbo Restaurants referred a request for comment from McClatchy News to Sun Holdings. McClatchy News attempted to reach Sun Holdings for comment on May 26 and was awaiting a response.

Attorney Paul Skrabanek, of the Pierce Skrabanek law firm in Houston, is representing the family to “help investigate and hold accountable those responsible for the potential negligence that led to such a disturbing end for their loved one,” a May 17 news release said.

Manager was temporarily assigned to Arby’s in Louisiana

Le, a widow and mother of four who lived with her oldest child Nguyen Le, worked at an Arby’s restaurant in Houston, Texas, as a general manager, the lawsuit says.

In February, her supervisor asked her to take a temporary assignment and work at the Arby’s in New Iberia for what was supposed to last four weeks, according to the lawsuit. Nguyen Le joined his mother to temporarily work there, Skrabanek told McClatchy News.

At some point, that assignment was extended by her supervisor, the lawsuit says.

The freezer was supposed to be kept at -10 degrees, “if not colder,” according to the lawsuit.

The morning of May 11, Le got trapped in the freezer while on her extended assignment, and ultimately “collapsed into a fetal position face down on the frozen floor,” the lawsuit says.

An investigating police officer reported that he observed blood on the freezer’s inside door, leading him to believe Le was pounding on the door, according to the lawsuit.

In a May 12 news release, the New Iberia Police department wrote that no foul play was suspected.

A former New Iberia Arby’s employee told Nguyen Le and his siblings that the restaurant’s walk-in freezer latch had been broken since August 2022 and employees used a screwdriver to open and close the door, according to the lawsuit. Other times, a box of oil was used to keep the door open, the lawsuit says.

With the lawsuit, Le’s children assert their mother’s death was wrongful, and Arby’s, Turbo Restaurants and Sun Holdings are negligent.

Nguyet Le
Nguyet Le

Despite the freezer door’s latch being broken, it was never fixed for nearly nine months, the lawsuit says.

Le’s children demand a trial by jury and are suing to recover damages and relief over her death, past and future mental anguish, conscious pain and suffering, loss of support and loss of love and affection, the original petition shows.

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