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Witnesses questioned in detasselers’ deaths

Published: Tuesday, May 14, 2013 1:15 a.m. CST

STERLING – Lawyers are interviewing witnesses and taking depositions in a wrongful death lawsuit filed after two Sterling detasselers were electrocuted in summer 2011, they told a Winnebago County judge at a status hearing last week.

Best friends Jade Garza and Hannah Kendall, both 14, died July 25, 2011 when they came into contact with an electrified irrigation system in a field near Tampico.

Attorney Jim Mertes of Sterling represents Jade’s parents, Chris Garza and Sabrina Knapp, and Hannah’s mother, Mary Kendall. Devon Bruce, a lawyer with the Chicago firm of Power, Rogers & Smith, also represents Kendall.

Hannah’s father, Brian Kendall, filed the wrongful death suit in August 2011; he died in May 2012.

ComEd, Monsanto Co. farm owners Virginia and Donald Matthews, Kevin Larkey, who leased the farm, and R&J Enterprises, the labor contractor, are the original defendants. Rock Falls-based Alton Irrigation, which was involved in installation and “revision” of the irrigator, also has been added to the complaint.

The lawsuit asserts that the defendants failed to inspect the irrigation system and repair the electrical problem, and that ComEd failed to inspect and repair the meter.    

The next status hearing for the lawsuit is set for Aug. 15.

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