Categories
Jeremy Chisenhall Long Reads Uncategorized

Dangerous steps when ‘walking the grain’

A Grave Mistake
Photo illustration by Jeremy Chisenhall

By Jeremy Chisenhall

Temperatures reached 91 degrees in Mount Carroll, Illinois, on the day rescuers pulled Alejandro “Alex” Pacas and Wyatt Whitebread’s dead bodies from a grain bin.

The heat started it all.

Whitebread fainted while “walking the grain,” in which a person enters the bin with an object like a piece of pipe or a shovel to try to loosen clumped-up grain, allowing it to flow out of the bin and onto a conveyer belt below.

None of the workers wore safety harnesses, and the corn beneath Whitebread gave way just before 10 a.m. Panicked, Pacas, 19, and Will Piper, 20, a coworker, tried to drag Whitebread out of the bin, said Catherine Rylatt, Pacas’ aunt and the founder of the Grain Handling Safety Coalition.

The two tried desperately to keep Whitebread from becoming a blip on the radar of a giant funnel of corn.

Just as they thought they grabbed Whitebread, the corn gave way beneath them, Rylatt said. An ocean of corn swallowed up Whitebread. Pacas and Piper became entrapped at that point, an OSHA investigation report stated.

Whitebread, 14, died first.