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Grain elevator company pleads guilty in teen death

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - A rural Colorado company pleaded guilty in federal court in Denver on Friday to violating workplace laws in the death of a 17 year-old boy who suffocated after he was sucked under flowing grain while cleaning a bin.

Tempel Grain Elevators LLP, under a plea agreement with prosecutors, must pay the family of Cody Rigsby $500,000 for his May 2009 death.

The company also was ordered to pay a $50,000 fine to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Denver.

Rigsby and other workers at a Haswell, Colorado, plant were routinely required to perform hazardous tasks, according to court documents.

On the day he died, Rigsby and another boy entered a bin to clean it out and he was engulfed by flowing grain, his chest was crushed and he was asphyxiated, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The teenager was not equipped with a safety harness.

Under the plea deal, Tempel Elevators agreed to stop hiring workers under the age of 18, to provide workers with appropriate safety equipment, and to conduct on-site safety training programs.

David Michaels, an assistant secretary of labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said in a written statement that the boy's death was "a terrible tragedy" that could have been prevented.

At least 26 U.S. workers were killed in grain entrapments last year, according to researchers at Purdue University.

The number of reported grain entrapments has risen in recent years, as larger crops were harvested and domestic corn demand for ethanol resulted in a build-up of storage capacity in the Midwest, the Purdue study said.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Peter Bohan)