Student’s deadly fall from Bunge grain elevator renews community action

A neighborhood meeting Wednesday looked at solutions for the building's dangers.

Derrick Biney

After a fall from it caused a University student’s death, a building that was once regarded as just an eyesore has become a safety concern for many.

On Jan. 29, University student Germain Vigeant fell 100 feet to her death in the grain elevator at 917 13th Ave. S.E., a building owned by Bunge North America.

Before the death of Vigeant, members of the community, as well as city officials, made efforts to address the security issues of the property.

It took the death of Vigeant for Bunge to really address the problems, said James De Soto, neighborhood coordinator for the Southeast Como Improvement Association.

“Now that someone has died they are going to look at it,” De Soto said. “It should have never had come to that.”

Showing support

The Southeast Como Improvement Association had a meeting Wednesday at Van Cleve Park Community

Center to bring family, friends and concerned community members together to express views over the death of Vigeant. The association hoped to find a way to ensure that similar incidents do not happen again.

Vigeant’s parents, Duane and Laura, sister, Danielle, and brother, Felix, were all in attendance.

Friends of Vigeant, roommates and others all said they went to the meeting to show their support for the family and to listen to the plans raised.

Duane “Buzz” Vigeant said he has made it his mission to ensure the incident that happened with is daughter does not happen again.

“My purpose is not to memorialize Germain – the community has already done that,” he said. “(It’s) to bring about change.”

Vigeant expressed his gratitude for the level of support he has received from the association. He said the meeting was “wonderful” and he attended in order to learn how the community can get involved and also to participate in the discussion.

Attendees gave introductions, expressed their views about the incident and spoke about how they could help raise awareness of the incident.

The association sent Bunge an invitation to the meeting, but the company declined because it thinks it has taken appropriate measures to address the issues of security and safety, according to a letter read at the meeting.

Accountability measures

The property owned by Bunge became vacant in 2003, and has been an ongoing and growing problem since, De Soto said.

Lee Hibbard, association president, read letters that showed the communication the association has had with Bunge to address issues such as graffiti, vandalism and access to the site.

Cam Gordon, 2nd Ward City Council member, who was also in attendance, outlined some steps which have been taken to secure the site and spoke on the plans to change the site into housing.

Attendees at the meeting suggested plans to look at used and abandoned city elevators, contact cities with similar issues and address the issue as a starting point for a larger movement toward safety.