Six ag-related fatalities in less than 2 years
DEER GROVE – The death of a Tampico teenager, who was run over by a farm machine Thursday, is not the first farm-related tragedy to hit the Sauk Valley.
Since late July 2010, five teenagers and one adult have died while working in an agricultural job, prompting several lawsuits that are still pending.
Whiteside County sheriff’s deputies were called Thursday morning to a cornfield just south of Deer Grove after a 15-year-old Tampico boy, who had been cutting individual cornstalks, fell off a tractor-like machine and was run over.
The boy, who deputies have declined to name, died at a Rockford hospital later that night.
Related: No investigation by OSHA
On July 28, 2010, Wyatt Whitebread, 14, and Alejandro “Alex” Pacas, 19, both of Mount Carroll, were killed after sinking into corn in a grain bin at 10560 Mill Road in Carroll County.
A year later, July 25, 2011, Hannah Kendall and Jade Garza, both 14 of Sterling, were electrocuted when they came in contact with a damaged irrigation system, which had been struck by lightning. The girls had been detasseling corn in a field near Tampico.
A week before the girls’ deaths, on July 19, Mexican migrant worker Humberto Casarrubias Sanchez, 36, disappeared while detasseling in a Tampico field. His body was found Sept. 3 in the field. Sanchez died from hyperthermia due to extreme heat, authorities said.
The Mount Carroll tragedy almost claimed a third victim. Will Piper, 21, also of Mount Carroll, sank into the corn, but was rescued by emergency crews.
The grain bins were owned by the now-defunct Haasbach, LLC. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration launched in investigation.
In November 2010, Wyatt’s mother, Carla Whitebread, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Haasbach in Carroll County Court. She later added Consolidated Grain & Barge, who now owns the bins. At the time of the accident, the company was leasing office space and accepted and stored grain for Haasbach.
In August, Piper and the Pacas family also sued the companies. A hearing in the case is scheduled for Monday.
A judge in February denied a motion filed by Haasbach to dismiss the suit.
In December, Haasbach paid a $200,000 fine to OSHA and a $68,125 fine to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, which found that the company had violated the Fair Labor and Standards Act child labor provisions by allowing workers younger than 18 to perform hazardous jobs.
The Sterling girls had been hired by Rock Falls-based R&J Enterprise of Illinois, which was working for Montsanto Co.
In January, OSHA decided not to levy charges against either company, saying that no evidence suggested the companies could have known about the safety hazard.
Before that OSHA ruling, Kendall’s father, Brian Kendall, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Winnebago County Court.
That suit, filed by Chicago-based law firm Power Rogers & Smith, names both companies as defendants, along with ComEd; land owners Virginia and Donald Matthews; Kevin Larkey, who was leasing the land; and Larkey’s company, LKS, Inc.
An amended complaint also named Rock Falls-based Alton Irrigation, which was involved in installation and “revision” of the irrigator, according to an amended complaint.
Brian Kendall died in May.
In early January, Sterling attorney Jim Mertes filed a lawsuit on behalf of Hannah’s mother, Mary Kendall, and Jade’s parents, Christopher Garza and Sabrina Knapp.
Mertes said Friday that attorneys for everyone involved had been “painstakingly” analyzing the components of the irrigation system and field to prepare for trial.
A case management conference is set for Sept. 12.
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