An investigation is underway into the death of a 23-year-old Michigan man who died late last month in a molasses tank at work, according to local television station WOOD in Grand Rapids.
Robert Herweyer was helping to pump out a 12-foot-tall vat at Agri-Science Technologies in Saugatuck on the morning of July 26 when the molasses level got too low to reach the pump-out valve, a co-worker says.
So Herweyer put on a pair of wading boots and a safety mask so he could descend into the tank via a forklift and straps and adjust the valve. But things started to go amiss once he had fixed the valve, MLive.com reports.
The co-worker told the news outlet that Herweyer grabbed the straps to start the climb back out, but he suddenly stopped moving and wouldn’t respond to his co-worker’s yells. The co-worker ran to get their boss, who used an electric saw to cut into the tank and yank out Herweyer, who witnesses say had been submerged in the molasses.
“As a result of climbing down into the tank, then something happened which caused him to either lose consciousness or fall or something that resulted in him then being down in the actual molasses himself,” Allegan County Undersheriff Frank Baker told WOOD.
Herweyer was believed to have been under the syrupy liquid for at least four minutes. Although the sheriff’s department hasn’t yet issued an official cause of death, the ER physician who took Herweyer in told police the man had syrup in his lungs and had drowned, according to MLive.com.
Michigan’s OSHA is investigating the incident to make sure there were no workplace violations.
Herweyer, who was married last November, had just moved into a new home with wife Joy and was expecting his first child with her any day. A GoFundMe page has raised more than $32,000 so far for Joy and their soon-to-arrive baby.