May 24, 2024
Local News

Two Sterling teens electrocuted, 8 others hurt in detasseling accident

TAMPICO – Two 14-year-old girls were electrocuted Monday morning in rural Tampico, and eight others were hurt in the accident that happened while they were detasseling.

Dead are Hannah Kendall and Jade Garza, best friends who would have been freshmen at Sterling High School this fall.

Authorities wouldn’t reveal the names, ages or sexes of the other workers, who likely also were younger than 18. They worked for Monsanto Corp.

The accident happened in a cornfield on Luther Road south of Starr Road shortly before 9 a.m. At the time, 72 detasselers were assigned to the farm.The girls and two other crew members came in contact with a field irrigator, and they received an electrical shock as a result, according to the Whiteside County Sheriff’s Department. Several others also reported feeling the shock.

The four were immediately taken to CGH Medical Center in Sterling, where the girls were pronounced dead, the Sheriff’s Department and Whiteside County Coroner Joe McDonald said.The third crew member was in critical condition and was taken by helicopter to OSF St. Anthony Medical Center in Rockford. The fourth was admitted to CGH for observation, a sheriff’s news release said.

Video: Watch the full press conference

Monsanto has shut down its local detasseling operations in the Sterling-Rock Falls area for the time being. More than 1,000 have been working for the company this summer, said Mark Cavenaile, a company official.

“It’s cautionary. We’ve never had an incident like this before,” he said during a 4 p.m. news conference with area law enforcement officials.

Cavenaile said detasselers receive training and are advised to walk around the pivot irrigation systems, not go across them.

The accident has been reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, he said.

‘Best buddies’

Barb Lauff is an orchestra teacher and track coach at Challand Middle School. She said both girls were on the track team “during their Challand years.”

“They were best buddies,” Lauff said. “They were polite, very well-mannered, had extremely bubbly personalities.

“Everybody wanted to be around them.”

The girls have “been close for a long time,” Lauff said.

“I don’t think devastated comes close,” to her reaction upon hearing the news, she said. “It was like a powerful punch.”

Lauff mourned their loss.

“They were just jumping around happy in track – now you are not going to see that interaction anymore.”

‘I heard them yelling’

By Monday afternoon, a memorial page was up on Facebook, and the numbers of supporters grew dramatically throughout the day. As of midnight, more than 6,000 people signed up that they “liked” the page.

Tristen Dudley, 13, of Rock Falls, was one of the employees who saw the girls being electrocuted. He said a couple of others tried to help them, suffering severe injuries. “I heard them yelling. I went over to help. I didn’t do anything because I would have been sucked in,” he said.

Tristen said the crews had been told to walk around the irrigation equipment on a previous day.

There was a lot of water in the field. “It was like a pond,” he said.  Water is a conductor of electricity.

Thursday is the first anniversary of the deaths of two teens who perished in a grain bin accident in Mount Carroll. OSHA fined the grain bin operator $620,000 in the deaths.

Even before the electrocutions, it had been a bad week for local detasseling operations. Six detasselers for Pioneer Hi-Bred International were taken to CGH for heat-related illnesses on July 22, the same day a Spanish-speaking migrant worker, Humberto Casarrubias Sanchez, went missing from a site near Tampico. Authorities are still looking for him.

The Whiteside County Sheriff’s Office was assisted by Rock Falls Police Department, Tampico Fire Department and Ambulance Service, Prophetstown Ambulance Service, CGH Ambulance Service, Morrison Ambulance, Milledgeville Ambulance, Rock Falls Fire Department, Illinois State Police and Whiteside County Highway Department.

Sauk Valley Media reporter Kiran Sood contributed to this story.

Counselors on hand today

Counseling will be available to anyone who needs it from 10 a.m. to noon today at Sterling, Rock Falls and Morrison high schools.

News of teen deaths reaches Facebook

STERLING – Hours before the Whiteside County coroner released the names of the two girls electrocuted Monday morning while detasseling corn, there was a Facebook page devoted to them.

By Monday evening, more than 6,000 people "liked" the page, "R.I.P. Hannah Kendall and Jade Garza." Online condolences and prayers were being offered on the page at a fast rate all day long.

Kendall and Garza, both 14, died Monday after they came in contact with a field irrigator and received an electrical shock. Eight others were injured, one critically.

Kendall and Garza would have been freshmen at Sterling High School this fall.

"It's amazing how many people have already 'liked' this memorial page so quickly. These two angels have many people thinking about them whether they [knew] them or not!" posted Hillary Lockner, who, like many others on the page, acknowledged she didn't know either girl.

Many friends and some family members also posted to the site Monday.

"I love you Hannah. Nothing will change that," Shelbi Lawson wrote. "U were a good cousin to me and ill miss u. I cry all the time. Why did it have to happen to u? I love u R.I.P."

"Hannah Kendall, you will always be my birthday buddy," Katy Whaley wrote. "I feel honored to have the same birthday as you! Jade Garza, I'm so gonna buy a mushroom necklace in your memory. Love you too."