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A Windrow in the Road


On this date 20 years ago, the management of the Falkirk coal mine decided they needed better roads. Unfortunately, the road improvement project led to the death of an employee.

Things began smoothly enough. The mine hired a contractor to haul in sand and gravel. They instructed the contractor to dump the 27 tons of material in a windrow along the middle of the road, planning to smooth it out later. This seemingly harmless choice proved fatal.

As the day went on, six heavy equipment operators were sent to the Riverdale reclamation center, about four miles south of the mining office. They arrived at the site around 4:00 pm and worked for six hours until they took a break to eat at 10pm. At this point, two of the miners stayed to eat at the site while four returned to the office, as was normal practice. Dean Diehl drove, with Ronald Sigurdson, Nancy Rippley, and Harlan McKelvey as passengers. They had driven the route successfully in daylight, but it was now dark and the windrow was not properly marked. At 10:05 pm, Sigurdson saw the windrow and tried to warn Diehl, but Diehl was driving at 45 miles per hour and didn’t have time to react. The left front wheel hit the windrow and set the van rolling before coming to a stop on its side.

Sigurdson, Diehl, and Rippley crawled out of the open windshield, only to realize that McKelvey was not with them. After searching, they found him near the roof of the van with no pulse. Four minutes later, a water truck driver named Rick Cowan drove by and they flagged him down. Cowan radioed in for assistance and within minutes the mine’s Emergency Medical Technicians arrived and began CPR. McKelvey was brought to Turtle Lake Community Hospital and was pronounced dead upon arrival. Examiners determined that McKelvey had been ejected through the window and crushed by the van. The Department of Labor issued a warning in an effort to prevent future accidents.

A report this year from the AFL-CIO showed North Dakota has the highest per-capita rate of workplace deaths.

Dakota Datebook written by Lucid Thomas


"https://arlweb.msha.gov/FATALS/1997/FTL97C22.HTM" https://arlweb.msha.gov/FATALS/1997/FTL97C22.HTM