The night before Jeffery Allen Tukua, a construction worker in Fort Snelling State Park, was crushed to death by a backhoe, he told his wife that he “had a bad feeling about the job” and did not want to go into work the next day.
“Jeffery told her he felt the job was dangerous and someone was going to get killed,” an officer in the Minneapolis St. Paul Airport Police wrote in a recently released report.
Tukua, a 46-year-old Hastings man employed by the Jordan-based construction firm S.M. Hentges, was working on a Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) project to create a drainage pond to capture runoff from the airport and prevent pollutants from flowing into the Mississippi River.
October 22 was Tukua’s first day on the project.
The ground was muddy and soft that morning, and Tukua was stabilizing his backhoe with wooden planks, 3 feet wide and about 20 feet long. As he had been trained, Tukua would remove planks from behind the excavator, bringing them around the machine and wedging them under the treads. Then he’d hop in the backhoe cab and drive it forward in a maneuver known as “crabbing.”
Shortly before 10 a.m., the backhoe slipped off the planks, tipping slowly over to the left and trapping Tukua against the ground.
Allen Sapp, a chief inspector on the project, saw the backhoe topple and told police he knew immediately that Tukua was in trouble. Sapp sprinted to Tukua’s side and found him unconscious. He couldn’t tell whether or not Tukua was breathing.
Mark Dorsey, an airport police officer, was one of the first responders to Sapp’s call for help.
“The driver was half out of the cab of the excavator and pinned face down between a plank that had angled up on its edge and the body of the excavator,” Dorsey wrote in his report. “There was no physical way to even try to help the victim as the [sheer] weight of the excavator and the angle he was trapped would not allow even the most basic life support functions.”
Sapp organized site workers to bring in another backhoe in an attempt to free Tukua, but police and fire officials discouraged the effort. Tukua was pronounced dead before his body was removed from the machinery.
A video filmed by KSTP shows rescue workers responding to the scene. (Warning: The victim is visible in the video.)
Tim Culp, a S.M. Hentges project manager told police there were no safety concerns on the Holding Pond #4 project and that using wood planks to stabilize backhoes on muddy terrain is a common practice. S.M. Hentges holds daily safety meetings, Culp said.
Steve Hentges, the construction company’s CEO, said that “the incident was tragic and that he was concerned for the welfare of Tukua’s family and his employees,” according to the police report.
The Hennepin County Medical Examiner declared the cause of death as asphyxia due to pinning by construction equipment. The Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the incident.
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