Metro-East News

Worker killed at Granite Steel had meth in system; mill fined $12,000

In this News-Democrat file photo, flat rolled steel rests on rail cars at U.S. Steel Corp. in Granite City.
In this News-Democrat file photo, flat rolled steel rests on rail cars at U.S. Steel Corp. in Granite City.

A Granite City Steel employee who died in a workplace accident in March had methamphetamine in his system, but not necessarily enough to be intoxicated, and the mill was allowing unsafe work practices at the time, according to reports obtained by the News-Democrat.

The steel mill has been fined more than $12,000 for serious workplace violations that were discovered during an investigation of the death, and the worker’s family has gone to court to get information about what happened.

Timothy Dagon, 42, died March 5 while he was working at Granite City Steel’s rail yard. Dagon worked at the rail yard for 20 years and was an avid motorcyclist, according to his obituary.

A newly-released Granite City Police report, which included a summary of surveillance footage, indicates Dagon fell off a moving railcar and seriously injured his leg.

“In the far distance of the video there appeared to be a person riding on the side of the train,” Granite City Police Detective Adam Connor wrote in his report. “The subject appeared to fall or jump down from the train and go underneath the railcar.”

Dagon was taken to Saint Louis University Hospital, where he died later that day.

Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials launched an investigation in response to the incident. The agency fined Granite City Steel $12,675 in August for creating serious workplace hazards, according to a letter to the steel factory dated Aug. 30.

OSHA officials wrote in the letter that, by letting workers hop on and off moving rail cars to switching operations — moving and positioning rail cars as necessary — put employees in harm’s way.

Connor interviewed Kevin Wylde, the locomotive operator working with Dagon at the time, on the day of the accident. Wylde said he and Dagon were working as a team, weighing empty train cars and moving them around the yard when Dagon gave him the command on a two-way radio to move the cars ahead. Shortly after, Wylde discovered Dagon had fallen.

“I can’t believe I fell off again,” Dagon said to Wylde while they waited for help, according to the operator’s interview with Connor.

Dagon had methamphetamine and Midazolam — a prescription sedative — in his system, according to a City of St. Louis toxicology report.

But St. Louis Chief Medical Examiner Michael A. Graham said the amount found in his system does not indicate his level of intoxication.

“It’s not like alcohol, where you can reasonably determine the effects,” Graham said. “People react to (drugs) differently.”

Methamphetamine can remain in a person’s body for days after it was ingested.

Meghan Cox, a spokeswoman for U.S. Steel, which owns Granite City Steel, declined to comment.

Granite City Police Lt. Nick Novacich said officers determined there was no criminal element to Dagon’s death.

Dagon’s ex-wife Heather Dagon, who had a child with Timothy Dagon, is working with attorney Lanny Darr and has filed a petition against U.S. Steel Corporation, seeking information regarding the accident and subsequent investigations.

Heather Dagon is asking the court to order U.S. Steel Corporation to “identify the individuals, entities, coworkers, employers, or third parties operating, directing or coordinating” certain trains that may have caused or contributed to Dagon’s death.

“Well, we are evaluating to see if there are any potential claims — exploring whether or not there are avenues of recovery,” Darr said.

Darr said U.S. Steel officials “are being resistant in giving us that information,” which is why Heather Dagon took legal action.

In addition to the identities, the petition seeks all reports, witness statements, documents, schedules and other materials from all agencies investigating his death that will establish who owns the train involved as well as other details and individuals involved in the accident.

“We are still trying to piece together what happened,” Darr said. “An accident is an accident — but the courthouse is full of lawsuits over accidents. It means someone didn’t act appropriately, and if someone didn’t act appropriately, then they should be held accountable.”

Darr said he had not reviewed the toxicology results indicating Dagon had drugs in his system.

“Some of those things come up positive because of pain medications and other things (paramedics) provided at the scene,” Darr said. “Generally, that gets flushed out in discovery, it may or not be of significance.”

OSHA did not release all documents pertaining to the investigation to the BND, citing continuing litigation in the case.

Dagon’s death is at least the third since U.S. Steel purchased Granite City Steel from National Steel out of bankruptcy in 2003.

The first took place Feb. 3, 2005 when David M. Prengel, 46, was hit by a slow-moving train in the rail yard and killed. Then, on Oct. 30, 2011, Dennis C. Courtaway, 56, of Caseyville, was found at the top of a blast furnace after he committed suicide.

The plant was shut down in December 2015 when more than 2,000 workers were laid off. However, more than 200 employees returned to work in February 2017 as U.S. Steel brought back workers to operate its hot strip mill.