Grain bin accident 'was very preventable'

MOUNT CARROLL – None of the three individuals involved in the double-fatal grain bin accident Wednesday was wearing a safety harness, preliminary findings show, and the -year-old who died should not have been working there at all, an OSHA spokesman said Thursday.

"This is totally unacceptable, and it's something that should not have happened," OSHA and U.S. Department of Labor spokesman Scott Allen said. "This accident was very preventable. It's a shame that the company didn't have the proper safety procedures in place."

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the incident that took the lives of Wyatt Whitebread, 14, and Alejandro "Alex" Pacas, 19. Will Piper, 20, still was in serious condition Thursday at OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center in Rockford.

According to state and federal regulations, no one younger than 18 can work in a job deemed hazardous, so Whitebread should not have been working inside the bin, Allen said.

The facility, at 10650 Mill Road just off state Route 64, is owned by Haasbach LLC, which is owned by the Harbach Family Partnership, based in Warren, and Haas & Haas, LLC, based in Elizabeth.

Dirk Harbach, a Haasbach partner, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Consolidated Grain and Barge Co. accepts and stores Haasbach grain at the Mount Carroll location, but is not in charge of the physical operation or any employees working there, the Carroll County Sheriff's Department clarified in a news release Thursday.

The lack of harnesses are among the preliminary findings; the investigation is ongoing, Allen said.

"We will continue to conduct a thorough investigation to determine whether there is a safety violation at all," he said.

If found to be in violation, the company could be fined, Allen added.

He did not know the specifics of how the three wound up in the bin. OSHA investigators, on the scene since Wednesday, still are interviewing witnesses, workers and emergency crews to piece together what happened.

OSHA must complete its investigation within 6 months, although it usually doesn't take that long, Allen said.

Carroll County authorities did not release additional information Thursday. The investigation is ongoing and more information will be released as it becomes available, Sheriff Jeff Doran said.

The Sheriff's Department was called to the site just before 10 a.m. Wednesday. It took workers and emergency crews from across the northwest more than 12 hours to vacuum out tons of shelled corn from the bin in an effort to reach the three summer employees.

Piper was pulled from the bin around 4:15 p.m. Wednesday. Pacas was removed at 10:16 p.m. and Whitebread at 10:50 p.m.

The official causes of death had not been determined Thursday afternoon, a spokeswoman for Carrol County Coroner Matthew Jones said.

Over the past 10 years, there have been 16 grain-handling-related deaths in Illinois, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.