Saugatuck, Michigan — Robert Herweyer was a proud Michigan native. He was only 23 years old and had the whole world ahead of him. Last November, he married his now-wife, Joy. They purchased a home and were expecting their first child. In fact, the baby was due within days. Everything was going great for Robert.
Then, the morning of July 26, tragedy struck and everything changed.
It was a just normal work day at Agri-Science Technology for Robert. He and another employee were attempting to clean out a 12 foot vat of molasses. When the molasses got too low, the pump stopped working properly. Robert volunteered climbed into the tank to see if he could adjust the valve to an appropriate level. He donned all the appropriate safety gear, and made sure his safety goggles and body straps were tight before being lowered into the vat with a forklift.
Robert got the valve working, but that’s when something went wrong.
The key eye-witness, Kevin Deherrera (Robert’s co-worker and friend) said Robert started to climb back out of the vat. Then, suddenly, he stopped moving. He was described as standing against the wall, unresponsive. Kevin started yelling, asking Robert what was wrong, but there was no response. There wasn’t any movement at all. Kevin alerted David Alexander, the owner of Agri-Science Technology, who quickly came running. Using an electric saw, David cut the vat open and began performing CPR on Robert.
There was no indication about what happened to Robert while in the vat. It’s speculated that he either lost consciousness or slipped and fell. Either way, he ended up submerged in the molasses for almost 4 entire minutes. He was rushed to Holland Community Hospital where emergency room physicians tried unsuccessfully to revive him. Physicians reported that his lungs were filled with the thick brown liquid.
The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration is currently investigating to see if the proper safety protocols were in place and adhered to. This will determine if any legal action should be taken against Agri-Technology.
Robert survived by his young wife, Joy and their child. Contributions can be made to the family’s GoFundMe page.