A worker killed last week at a wood products plant here suffocated in a tunnel after jumping onto a conveyor belt to clear a debris jam, authorities said Monday.
“From what I understand, he went over the railing, fell in and it took him under,” Post Falls police Detective Dave Beck said.
Denny Triebwasser, 48, of Post Falls, was found pinned in the 20-inch by 23-inch tunnel Friday afternoon at the Idaho Veneer Co. plant. He was in a sitting position with his chin pinned to his chest. After logs are cut into strips, the conveyor belt takes wood scraps to the chipper. The belt, surrounded by protective metal bars, travels down a hole into a 7-foot-long tunnel.
According to police reports, Triebwasser told co-worker Don Hook, 30, the belt was jammed.
“Don’t worry about it right now,” Hook replied. But when he turned around, Triebwasser had jumped onto the belt in an attempt to fix the problem.
“Did he just jump down in there?” the floor supervisor yelled to Hook. When Hook said “yes,” the supervisor ran 50 yards to cut the power to the belt.
Triebwasser’s body was stuck 16 inches into the tunnel. When paramedics arrived, they cut the belt, got him out and unsuccessfully tried to revive him.
Kootenai County Coroner Robert West said Monday the official cause of death is positional asphyxiation.
“He was trapped in a conveyor belt that pushed him up against a plug of wood-waste products, and he was in such a position that he couldn’t breathe,” West said. Triebwasser, father of two high school-age boys, worked at the plant for 24 years.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials were at the plant Monday, according to OSHA Assistant Area Director Jerry Hockett of Boise.