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$16M award to victims' families

Company 'absolutely' plans appeal

Published: Friday, Feb. 7, 2014 9:51 a.m. CST • Updated: Friday, Feb. 7, 2014 9:24 p.m. CST

MOUNT CARROLL – After being awarded $8 million, Carla Whitebread said there was something she would rather have.

"We can't say we're happy," the Mount Carroll mother said in a telephone interview Friday morning. “We'd give everything we have to bring Wyatt back."

A jury Thursday awarded $16 million – $8 million each – to two families who lost their teenage sons in a grain bin accident in the summer of 2010.

The jury deliberated for 8 hours Thursday before finding for the families of Wyatt Whitebread, 14, and Alejandro Pacas, 19, in their lawsuit against Consolidated Grain and Barge Co. The trial in Carroll County lasted nearly 2 weeks.

"We hope this sends a message to the grain industry," Wyatt's mother said. “Our boys aren't expendable.”

Co-worker Will Piper, 21, who was rescued from the grain bin after his friends died, was awarded $875,000.

An attorney for Consolidated said the company would appeal the verdict. Consolidated was associated with the grain bin, which was owned by Haasbach LLC.

In July 2010, Whitebread and Pacas were "walking down" corn while the machinery for emptying the bin was running. They were engulfed. Piper, who was buried up to his chest, was rescued and treated for injuries.

According to a news release from the Chicago law firm that represented the families, Piper and Pacas jumped in to save Whitebread, who was crying for help as he was being buried. Pacas jumped into what became a sinkhole while trying to pull out Whitebread, and they suffocated.

Piper was engulfed to his neck until rescuers saved him 6 hours later, the news release said.

As a result of the accident, Haasbach LLC agreed in late 2011 to pay a $200,000 fine to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The company also paid a $68,125 fine to the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division, which found it had violated the Fair Labor and Standards Act child labor provisions by allowing workers younger than 18 to perform hazardous jobs.

After paying the fines, Haasbach went out of business.

"These boys should not have been working in the bin in the first place," Kevin Durkin, one of the attorneys for Clifford Law Offices, which represented the families, said in a statement. "Consolidated Grain and Barge had ultimate responsibility for what went on in that bin and the company failed these families."

Jonathan Sandoz, Consolidated's general counsel, said his firm "absolutely" planned an appeal.

“Consolidated Grain and Barge Co. did not own or operate the Mount Carroll facility at the time of this unfortunate incident," he said in a statement. "While this was truly a tragic event for the families and the Mount Carroll community, Consolidated maintains that it was caused by the actions and failures of the victims’ employer, for which Consolidated has no legal responsibility."

Consolidated said in a 2010 statement that it had an agreement for Haasbach to accept and store grain from Consolidated at the Mount Carroll facility, "but CGB has no further involvement in the physical operation."

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