LEWISTON — The death of a Clearwater Paper employee is described as an industrial accident in a report by the Nez Perce County Sheriff’s Office obtained through a records request by the Lewiston Tribune.
Until now, law enforcement has avoided characterizing the fatality of John A. Bergen III, 35, pending the outcome of an ongoing investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Bergen was a 10-year veteran of Clearwater Paper’s Lewiston mill at the time of the accident, at about 10:30 p.m. June 30.
Bergen was working at a control panel when paper got stuck in machinery. He went to help two employees who were on either side of the machinery trying to clear the jam, according to the report.
“It appeared that Bergen was cutting the paper off of a large roll when he fell through an access door that is approximately six feet long by two and a half feet wide,” according to the report. “When he fell through the access door, he apparently hit his head.”
Bergen was carried down a large conveyor belt and fell into a 15,000-gallon vat of pulp that Clearwater Paper employees told the sheriff’s department had a temperature of 130 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the report.
Employees tried to rescue Bergen, according to the report. “When Clearwater Paper firefighters arrived on scene, Bergen had been in the pulp for approximately 20 minutes.”
Matt Van Vleet, a spokesman for Clearwater Paper, disagreed with that portion of the report. “Our firefighters were on the scene immediately after the incident and it took time to reach the employee.”
Bergen was found in the vat, which had just finished draining, next to an access hatch. Clearwater Paper firefighters attempted CPR but were unable to revive him, according to the report.
Bergen had a “trauma wound” that was 1 inch in diameter on the left side of his head and what appeared to be burns on his chest, face and neck, according to the report.
He was pronounced dead while being taken to St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Lewiston, according to the report.
Van Vleet declined to address other parts of the report because OSHA’s findings have not yet been issued. OSHA has six months from the time of Bergen’s death to release its report.