Blow up Bunge grain elevator

What force except random chance kept the accident from happening to a child?

by John Hoff

It is not quite time to lay down the issue of Germain Vigeant’s death at the Bunge grain elevator.

Yes, the coroner has issued a report, and it appears an open-and-shut case of a person old enough to know better doing something she shouldn’t have been doing while drinking alcohol she wasn’t supposed to be drinking.

Facts can be quite inconvenient. We are left with what actually happened, not all the things that could, quite easily, have happened. We tend to see the whole event through the lens of what occurred, and give much less consideration to what could have occurred.

For example, there appears to be no reason except dumb luck that Germain Vigeant was an adult, not a minor. Yet evidence and common sense show that minors have climbed Bunge grain elevator many times. In fact, it appears some still want to climb the elevator.

“Once you go there, you’ll definitely know it’s awesome in there.”

These words were said by a minor, discussing climbing the Bunge grain elevator.

These words were said after the death of Germain Vigeant. The words were said to a reporter for Channel 5, and now appear in a story on its Web site, “Despite deadly fall, teens still climb tower.” Evidence that minors are known to climb the Bunge grain elevator is significant, because the law protects juveniles in ways it doesn’t protect adults.

But who plunged 10 stories to her death? A teenager younger than 18? A child of tender years from the surrounding neighborhood? Or a 20-year-old college student? Yes, it was the college student, but what force except random chance kept the accident from happening to a child? Plenty of other accidents are possible at that old agrarian ruin besides a 10-story plunge. This accident, or some other mishap, easily could have happened to a child. Oh, then we would be living in a different world, wouldn’t we? You would be hearing these words all the time: “legal doctrine of attractive nuisance.”

Other plausible things that could have occurred should be taken into consideration. In this case, nobody attempted to conceal what happened after the horrible accident.

It hardly is implausible something like that could have happened if a different person were with Vigeant that night. Indeed, people are strongly motivated to hide fatal accidents under these circumstances, particularly a young man with a female companion. This campus could have been in a situation of trying, desperately, to find a missing female student. We could have had volunteer search crews probing the snow and sticking cameras in the Mississippi River until, good lord, the inevitable tearful confession.

But that didn’t happen. The authorities were called to the scene of the accident. The young man involved will live with this burden for the rest of his life. I hardly can see what purpose would be served by punishing him further with a trespassing charge. In the era of the Internet, Google functions the same as a criminal record. He already has suffered enough, he will continue to suffer, and there is too much suffering in the world as it is. He could have been the one to fall through an open hatchway, and then where would we be? Pressing trespassing charges against whom?

I can draw only two kinds of hope from this awful event. First, I hope that Bunge grain elevator is torn down as quickly as possible. I hardly see the point of waiting until, for example, summer. Blow up Bunge grain elevator with plenty of plastic explosives, I say, and sell tickets for some kind of charity fundraiser Ö something close to the soft heart of Germain Vigeant.

If sledgehammers were passed around, I’m sure volunteers would line up for a block, even in the dead of winter (which supposedly is spring) gladly paying money to whack at the nasty old derelict elevator. Don’t forget your helmet and safety goggles.

Some months ago, I took my 8-year-old son to a football field at the University’s Morris campus, to the spot where a student had been killed by a goalpost a crowd was tearing down. Some pale white candles were left near the spot, briefly lit, but then left wasted and unused.

Awed by the sadness of the scene, my little son vowed he never will do such a crazy thing when he is big and goes to college, even when mommy and daddy aren’t watching. Never, never, never!

This leads me to my second hope; a hope for lessons learned at such a terrible price. I hope the University community collectively contemplates what it means to suddenly, terrifyingly plunge 10 stories in the dark. We should question whether climbing on high objects for thrills or other risky behavior is really worthwhile with so much potential ahead of us, and so much that can go wrong.

There are a thousand acts of prudence we all could exercise, some of which would be controlling our drinking, choosing our companions carefully and considering whether weekends are, in fact, for homework as second semester zooms toward the final stretch.

If there is anything useful in this event, any lesson we can apply to our own lives, I hope we do. There might, in fact, never be a time to put the death of Germain Vigeant behind us.

John Hoff welcomes comments at [email protected].