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Dad remembers victim of Smoky Mountain Opry CO2 poisoning

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) - One of the three victims hospitalized after a CO2 release at Smoky Mountain Opry has died, according to his family. 

Josh Ellis, 38, was in a medically-induced coma at UT Medical Center after a CO2 valve that's used as a special smoke effect for the show was left on and filled an isolated tech room with gas.

Josh's dad, Dale Ellis, says the theater was his dream. 

"One of the things he often did in his growing up years in elementary school he was kind of the class clown and liked to be the center of attention and so drama kind of met a need for him," said Dale Ellis.

Dale says Josh worked at the Smoky Mountain Opry for one or two years.

"He loved being in the theater, that was his life, it was the thing that made his heart sing and he just loved his job at the Opry," said Dale Ellis.

Josh Ellis was an organ donor who has already benefited out-of-state patients in need.

"We were able to see that wish that he had made several years ago become fulfilled," said Dale Ellis. "It gave us a great sense of comfort and satisfaction knowing that he was able to do that and that other people would be blessed because of it."

His family thanked everyone who prayed for him and for their continued prayers. 

"The thing I would want to leave with those who want to know about my son is that he loved life, he was doing what he loved, and that he loved people and he loved his family," said Dale.  

Smoky Mountain Opry announced Thursday they are canceling the "Feel the Music" show until March 16 out of respect for Ellis' family. The "Magic Beyond Belief" show will resume on Friday.

In a statement over the weekend, Smoky Mountain Opry owner and CEO David Fee said a carbon dioxide gas release affected a technician in an isolated tech room. The gas is used for the shows' smoke effects. 

"In the show, we use CO2 for a special effect," said General Manager Micheal Headla. "Down in this room there is a CO2 valve and the valve is only typically left on for a very very small time. Unfortunately, for reasons that we don't know at this time, it was left on for an extended period of time."

Fee said the CO2 valve being left on caused the room to fill with the gas. 

"During this gas release, one of our employees was found unconscious. Two of his fellow technicians, in a heroic effort to solve the problem quickly, went to his rescue. They were also overcome by CO2 gas," said Fee. 

Fee released a statement about Ellis' death on Thursday:

We are all heartbroken by the tragic loss of our friend and co-worker, Josh Ellis. Our thoughts, prayers and deepest sympathies go out to his family, friends and fellow employees during this difficult time. The professional and personal relationships we had with Josh have been a source of enrichment and enjoyment to all of us. He was a wonderful employee and we shall miss him greatly. For all of us, this is devasting news.  We ask for your prayers and support during this time. 

Ellis' body will be sent for an autopsy. A memorial is tentatively scheduled for next week.

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development says it is investigating.


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