Fatal heavy duty equipment accidents under investigation in South Dakota

Several bucket truck and trailer accidents are claiming lives on private property.


Police are still in the process of putting together the report on Friday's accident, which killed one man and seriously injured another, said Capt. Dave McNeil of the Aberdeen Police Department.

The second person injured Friday in the industrial accident, Christopher Mehlhaff, 27, is in stable condition at the Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, a hospital spokesman said.

Mehlhaff was flown by Avera CareFlight to Avera McKennan after he fell out of a bucket truck that tipped over in the Wal-Mart parking lot Friday morning, a nursing supervisor at Avera St. Luke's Hospital said.

Michael Fogel, 22, of Aberdeen also fell out of the bucket truck. He was taken to the Essentia-Fargo Hospital in Fargo, N.D., where he died later that day from complications due to the injuries he suffered, said Camille Settelmeyer, Essentia-Fargo Hospital spokeswoman.

Emily Heintzman of Double Duty Movers was helping set up containers for Wal-Mart earlier Friday morning. Heintzman said she was walking out of OfficeMax when the accident happened.

"I walked outside when I heard this loud noise, like a bucket," she said. "I thought, my God what happened, then I looked over, saw the truck on its side and the two guys there. It was horrific."

Heintzman said it looked like the two men were in different buckets because they landed far away from each other.

She said only she and another man were there when it happened; the other man said he'd already called 911.

"My heart went out to those boys and their families," Heintzman said. "I was praying for them."

The funeral for Fogel will be held 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Aberdeen, according to his obituary. Visitation is scheduled Tuesday from 1 to 7 p.m. at the Spitzer-Miller Funeral Home.

McNeil said he could not release information because it was an industrial accident. The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration handles the investigation of industrial accidents, he said.

This was the second fatal industrial accident on private property in less than two weeks.

On July 23, Larry Huffman, 66, died after he was run over by a semi pup trailer at a construction site in the Industrial Park.

OSHA's office in Bismarck, which handles industrial accidents in South Dakota, was closed Saturday and did not return voice mail requests for information.

A major cause of fatalities for vehicles utilizing aerial lifts such as bucket trucks are collapses or tip overs, according to OHSA's website.

Common causes for tip overs include exceeding the load limits of the equipment and not properly using outriggers, according to OHSA's website.

It appeared the men were doing maintenance work on a light pole in the Wal-Mart lot before the accident happened, McNeil said Friday.

The men involved in the accident were employees of Swanson Electric, said Arlene Buechler, who works at the Aberdeen company.

Fogel and Mehlhaff each listed Swanson Electric as their employer on their Facebook pages.

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