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Fallen Worker: Wyatt Whitebread, Illinois

On a stifling hot day in July 2010, Wyatt Whitebread (14) of Mt. Carroll, Ill., joined his friends Alex Pacas (19) and Will Piper (20) at their work at the Haasbach LLC grain storage complex in Mt. Carroll. It was Pacas’ second day on the job; Piper had been there for three weeks.

That day, the three boys climbed a ladder to the top of the four-story grain bin to break up the kernels that had clung to the wall and were clogging the drain hole at the bottom of the bin- an illegal process called “walking the grain down.”

Not long after starting, Whitebread sank into the 250,000 bushels of wet corn contained in the half-full bin and disappeared. Pacas and Piper also began to sink and struggled to stay on the surface as they awaited help. Six hours later- after rescuers, harnessed and tethered to avoid being pulled in themselves, worked to free the boys- only Piper was carried out alive.

As many as 200 rescuers and helpers were involved in draining the corn from the bin in attempts to free the boys, and 30 semi trucks were required to carry away the corn that had suffocated them. Piper later described the corn as acting like quicksand.

This horrific story was the center of a recent investigation by NPR, the Center for Public Integrity, and the Kansas City Star. Even worse were the findings of how common grain bin deaths are- and how infrequently employers are held accountable.

Read other stories of fallen workers.  Learn more about Workers’ Memorial Week of Action.