Mitchell, South Dakota
Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors are expected to arrive at Trail King this morning to look into the death of a 19-year-old female employee at the company’s west plant in Mitchell.
Teresa Huether, rural Tripp, was killed Monday night after she was pinched between a stationary steel trailer and a trailer that was being moved by a crane. Huether was running the crane, which is operated from the floor, at the time of the incident.
Trail King officials hope OSHA’s upcoming investigation will provide a clearer picture as to what led to Huether’s death. “We want OSHA to come,” said company President Jerry Thomsen, adding that Trail King needs to know if there’s anything that can be done to prevent such accidents in the future.
“This is tragic. My condolences go out to the family,” he said.
City Public Safety Chief Doug Feltman said the incident, which occurred at Trail King’s 2200 S. Ohlman St. plant, was accidental. “It’s my understanding that once the crane stopped, the trailer (loaded on the crane) swung toward her,” Feltman said. “This is very unfortunate.”
It was the first work-related fatality in the history of the Mitchell trailer manufacturer, which was founded in 1974.
Thomsen declined to talk about the details of the accident before the OSHA investigation, but did say that OSHA was notified immediately of the accident. “We called them right away. We want them to come so we can get a clearer picture of what happened,” he said.
All work-related fatalities are investigated routinely by OSHA, according to officials with the agency.
“We’ve been notified of the incident and we plan to be in Mitchell as soon as we can,” Randy Schmidt, acting assistant area director for the OSHA office in Bismarck, N.D., said Tuesday.
Schmidt said it’s hard to say when the investigation and report will be complete because every case requires a different amount of time. He said the report will become public record only if there are violations.
Huether was working in Trail King’s metal finishing area during the time of the accident, Thomsen said. City emergency crews received the incident call at 11:03 p.m. Monday.
Huether was dead when police arrived at the scene, where Trail King employees already had freed her from the trailers with a forklift.
Thomsen said onsite counseling is being made available to all Trail King employees.
The Rev. John Hansen, of the First Lutheran Church in Mitchell, was at Trail King to lend an ear to workers on Monday night and Tuesday.
“(Employees) are dealing with this the way we would expect them to,” he said.
Huether had worked at the company for about 14 months and was looked to as a leader among other workers, according to relatives.
“We were told that she was a little bright light for everyone that worked with her. She was fun to be around,” said Cheryl Hirsch, an aunt from Yankton.
Huether was doing a great job at Trail King and was considered a group leader, said Becki Walz, Huether’s older sister. “She planned to stay at Trail King for the time being. She enjoyed her job,” Walz said.
Huether, like many her age, was a huge movie buff, loved to draw, and wasn’t afraid to speak her mind, according to Walz and Hirsch.”She was a fanatic cleaner. She would rearrange furniture at least once a week,” Hirsch said.
Huether was a 1998 graduate of Tripp-Delmont Public School where she played basketball. She recently had moved to Mitchell.