LAKETOWN TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Allegan County authorities say a medical episode or fumes may have contributed to the death of an Alto man who drowned in a vat of molasses last week.
Robert Herweyer, 23, was just days away from welcoming his first child when he died the morning of July 26.
He was working at Agri-Science Technology Company, located at 6135 Blue Star Highway in Laketown Township, northwest of Saugatuck, when the fatal accident happened. A co-worker told the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office they diluted the molasses with water before beginning to pump it out of an about 12-foot plastic tank behind the main building.
When the liquid level fell to about two feet, the co-worker said Herweyer used straps attached to a forklift to climb down into the tank and lower a valve to continue the pumping process. However, the co-worker said after Herweyer grabbed the straps to climb back out, he didn’t move. He told authorities Herweyer didn’t respond when he asked him if he was OK.
“As a result of climbing down into the tank, then something happened which caused him to either lose consciousness or fall or something that resulted in him then being down in the actual molasses himself,” Allegan County Undersheriff Frank Baker said.
The co-worker ran to the company’s office for help.
“When we got there, we had already cut him out of the tank,” Graafschap Fire Chief Doug DenBleyker, who responded to the call, said Wednesday. “They had taken a saw and cut the plastic tank and made a door in it to get him out.”
Police reports say witnesses saw Herweyer lying down at the bottom of the tank under the molasses with his face safety mask barely showing above the liquid. The company owner told authorities Herweyer was under the molasses mix for four to five minutes before co-workers removed his safety mask and started CPR. Firefighters took over CPR when they arrived.
Herweyer was taken to Holland Community Hospital, where he died.
While the sheriff’s office says the final cause of death has not been determined, initial police reports indicate Herweyer drowned. There was no evidence of foul play.
Herweyer’s wife told the sheriff’s office he had not been drinking and did not have any medical issues.
Herweyer was expecting his first child within the next few weeks, according to a GoFundMe page set up to cover his funeral expenses. The couple recently moved into a home after getting married in November, the page stated.