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Worker killed in Cloverdale sawmill was trying to clear jammed machine

Published: Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 8:21 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 4:16 p.m.

A mill worker who died Wednesday afternoon at the Redwood Empire Sawmill in Cloverdale was trying to clear a jam in an automated tree debarking machine when he became entangled in some equipment and was killed, authorities said.

Ukiah resident Raul Lule, 43, was pronounced dead minutes after firefighters were dispatched to the McCray Road mill, a familiar landmark surrounded by piles of unmilled logs and cut lumber just off Highway 101 on the north side of town.

Details of the incident remained unclear Thursday.

Company officials from Redwood Empire, a division of Pacific States Industries Inc. in San Jose, did not respond to inquiries beyond issuing a statement saying they were "deeply saddened" by Lule's death.

A company spokesman, Austin Vanderhoof, said the circumstances of the fatal accident were under investigation and he could not comment.

Cloverdale firefighters who responded to provide medical aid referred questions to the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office and Cal-OSHA, the state occupational safety agency investigating Lule's death. Personnel from those agencies could not provide any information except that Lule had become entangled in machinery.

The father of two is the second worker to die at the mill in the past 4½ years, according to Cal-OSHA.

Another man died Sept. 15, 2008, also after becoming caught up in machinery, according to Cal-OSHA records.

That millhand was working at a conveyor-like chain table that moved trimmed lumber from one place to another. He reached over a railing to straighten out some lumber and slipped, causing his hand to become entangled between a chain and some sprocket teeth, leading to his death, the Cal-OSHA report states.

Agency records also outline a history of serious injury accidents, including several finger amputations and numerous fractures, at mill facilities run by Redwood Empire on McCray and Asti roads in Cloverdale, as well as Highway 128 in the Anderson Valley community of Philo.

In November 2008, a 2,000-pound machine hood released by another worker crashed down on a millhand who was cleaning a saw, Cal-OSHA said. The injured worker was hospitalized with a broken nose, broken teeth, broken ribs and a dislocated shoulder, a Cal-OSHA report says.

In 2006, a McCray Road worker suffered fractured ribs, the partial collapse of his lungs and esophogeal injuries after he raised two push arms to clean a machine and someone else released them on top of him, inspectors found.

In another 2006 accident, a worker dumped a load of wood chips into a chip bin, not realizing another worker was in the bin raking up, causing leg injuries and breathing issues, Cal-OSHA said.

Cal-OSHA spokesman Greg Siggins said any violations discovered during accident investigations must be addressed in mitigations included in the Injury and Illness Prevention Plan required of most California employers.

He said the investigation into Lule's death would probably take six months.

The Sonoma County Coroner's Office expected an autopsy would be conducted today.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com.

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