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Any lessons in Cole Gustafson's tragic farm accident?

Cole Gustafson

I have had several inquiries about what may have caused the accident that led to the death of Cole Gustafson, North Dakota State University's department head for Agribusiness and Applied Economics.

It's a troubling case because Cole was a smart, level-headed fellow. I'm thinking the Cole I know would have been cognizant of safety. I came to The Forum in 1983 and he came to NDSU in 1986. I will sorely miss Cole's counsel on various stories that deal with agribusinesses and enterprises on the scene in the region. I always felt he was one of the truth-tellers in the agricultural community at NDSU. I feel terrible for his family and his many colleagues.

But what happened? I called the Chisago County Sheriff's department to see if there's any more to learn from all of this.

Keith Hoppe, a captain in the department, called back. He said Cole was found at about 8 p.m., April 28, by a brother. The incident probably happened at 7 p.m.

Cole had been planting corn, Hoppe said. He had parked the International Harvester tractor and planter. Footprints indicate he went behind the parked machine to check the hoppers. The rig was parked on a slight down-grade.

"It appears the tractor started to roll down and incline, and he either tried to get on to apply the brake, or a lug caught him," Hoppe says. It appears the tractor rolled on his leg and then on his chest. Hoppe says a routine autopsy was done by the medical examiner in Dakota County at Hastings, Minn., but results aren't available immediately - probably not for another couple of weeks.

When the brother got there, he moved the tractor off of Cole. "The family was sure the tractor was off" when they found it, Hoppe says.

If there is any larger lesson here, it may be that it's best to fight the urge to save a piece of machinery if is unmanned and moving. "That's our first instinct, to do that," Hoppe says. "I grew up in a farming area. Accidents happen and it's usually moving machinery. Someone makes a mistake."

Farming. It's a wonderful profession. Cole loved it, but it can be dangerous. To all who are out there, planting this spring, please, please PLEASE be careful.