Grain bin operator closes, pays fines after deaths

MOUNT CARROLL – A northwestern Illinois company has gone out of business and paid nearly $270,000 in federal fines after two teenage workers suffocated in a July 2010 grain bin accident, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Tuesday.

Two workers – 19-year-old Alejandro Pacas and 14-year-old Wyatt Whitebread – died and a third worker was injured. The workers were in the grain bin to help the corn flow while machinery was running. The three were trapped in corn more than 30 feet deep. Rescue workers cut holes in the sides of the bin and drained thousands of pounds of corn to free them.

The accident at Haasbach LLC in Mount Carroll could have been prevented, OSHA investigators ruled after the accident. A preliminary investigation found none of the three workers was wearing safety harnesses or had life lines.

"This tragedy has had a profound effect on the community of Mount Carroll and the grain industry nationwide," said OSHA assistant secretary of labor David Michaels. "We hope that the deaths of these two young men send a profound and unmistakable message throughout the grain industry that loss of life can and must be prevented."

Haasbach paid $200,000 in penalties for more than two dozen violations. It also paid more than $68,000 for violating child labor laws. An administrative law judge approved the agreement in the case.

OSHA statistics show 16 fatalities in grain bin accidents in Illinois from 1998 to 2008. Shortly after the accident OSHA started a grain bin safety program in Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Mount Carroll is about 60 miles northeast of the Quad Cities.

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