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Owner who warned about dangers of company's meat grinder won't serve jail time after teen loses hand
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Owner who warned about dangers of company's meat grinder won't serve jail time after teen loses hand

The owner of a meat processing company in Michigan will not serve jail time, even though a teen under his supervision lost a hand while operating one of the company's machines several years ago.

On November 19, 2019, an unidentified young man who was then 17 was working at US Guys Processing in Saranac, Michigan, a small town about a half-hour east of Grand Rapids. Despite a stern warning from company owner Darin Wilbur about the dangers of the company's meat grinder, the young man unfortunately mishandled the equipment, and his "hand was pulled into the grinder," resulting in "the amputation of his right hand," a press release from the office Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said.

Wilbur, now 55, was supervising the young man at the time, and in June, he pled guilty to employing a minor in a dangerous profession in connection with the accident.

On Tuesday, Ionia County District Judge Raymond Voet issued Wilbur a series of fines and penalties totaling $1,143 on top of the perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars that the "horrible tragedy" has already cost Wilbur in business and legal expenses. Voet notably did not assess Wilbur any jail time.

Though Nessel suggested that Wilbur is a "bad employer" who disregarded child labor laws by not ensuring that the young man had gotten the proper state work permit, Judge Voet took a markedly different view of the situation. First, the judge reiterated in court that the teen "admitted that he’d been warned" to be very careful with the meat grinder.

"I did what you told me not to do," the young man later told Wilbur, according to Wilbur's attorney.

Judge Voet also noted that though technically still a minor, the young man was just a couple of months shy of adulthood when the accident occurred. "Two months later, we wouldn’t even be here," the judge said in court.

"Ionia County is a farming county, and I know a lot of people in this county view children working, sometimes around dangerous machinery, as part of growing up," Voet added.

Finally, Voet claimed he avoided giving a "symbolic" jail sentence in this case because of Wilbur's character. Wilbur's attorney had argued that his client had been an "upstanding member for the community for many years." The attorney also argued that Wilbur had a long history of helping "troubled" teens like the young man in this case, who had already dropped out of high school. "He did not realize he needed work permits," the attorney said.

Voet appeared to agree. "I think the horror of the incident and the obvious remorse expressed by Mr. Wilbur assures the court that this is not likely to happen again," Voet said during the sentencing hearing.

Attorney General Nessel likewise seems satisfied with the result, though she advocated for strengthening existing labor laws. "Our labor laws were written to protect children from dangerous workplaces; however, they lack the teeth needed to properly hold bad employers accountable for violations," Nessel said in a statement. "This case highlights the need to strengthen these protections, as well as the consequences for violations, and I look forward to working with the legislature on this critical work to protect the state’s youth."

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