An Illinois jury has awarded the families of two teens who died after they were buried in a grain bin $8 million each. A third 30-year-old man who survived but was traumatized by the entrapment was awarded $875,000.
Tragically, it’s not unusual for workers to sink into giant grain bins and suffocate, but the case of the three youths who became trapped in a bin of wet corn at the Haasbach LLC grain storage complex in Carroll County, Ill., was especially appalling.
As National Public Radio’s (NPR) Howard Berkes reported, in July 2010, “teenagers Wyatt Whitebread and Alex Pacas, and 20-year-old Will Piper were sent into an Illinois grain bin to unclog corn — but without training and safety gear and in violation of federal regulations.”
The boys climbed a ladder four stories high into the grain bins owned by Consolidated Grain and Barge Company with shovels and picks. Their job was to “walk down the grain,” which involved scraping the wet corn from the walls of the massive bin and breaking it up to prevent a clog at the drainage hole on the bottom.
They were shoveling the corn toward the cone-shaped hole in the center when Wyatt Whitebread, 14, began to sink. Within minutes, his head disappeared under the corn. Nineteen-year-old Alex Pacas and Will Piper also began to sink and fought frantically to stay above the surface. Six hours later, only Will Piper was removed from the grain bin alive.
NPR and the Center for Public Integrity have “documented hundreds of similar cases in which workers drowned in grain,” but efforts to beef up safety regulations have been met with “stiff resistance,” the NPR report explained.
“An [Occupational Health and Safety Administration] OSHA investigation released in late January 2011 cited the facility’s owner, Haasbach, for 25 violations,” the Chicago Tribune reported. “Among the violations, the owner didn’t train the young workers, provide safety harnesses, make sure machinery was turned off or develop an emergency action plan. A separate investigation found that Haasbach violated child labor laws by hiring workers under 18-years-old to perform hazardous jobs.”
The families also sued Haasbach, but the company reached a settlement with them prior to trial.
According to the Chicago Tribune, the jury’s nearly $17-million verdict is a record for Carroll County. The previous records were a 1989 verdict for $220,000 and 2005 settlement for $1.1 million.