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W.Va. man killed in accident was experienced with equipment

March 26, 2002|BY DAVE McMILLION

A Berkeley County farmer who died when a large bale of hay struck him Sunday was experienced at operating heavy equipment, his son-in-law said Monday.

Charles Bartgis, 64, of Apple Harvest Way, Martinsburg, died Sunday afternoon when a bale of hay weighing more than 500 pounds rolled down an arm of a tractor and struck him, Berkeley County Medical Examiner Sandy Brining said.

Bartgis was loading the hay at a friend's farm along W.Va. 45 west of Martinsburg near Rocky Knoll School at the time of the accident, his son-in-law, Joe Smith, said.

Smith said family members were shocked because Bartgis was skilled at operating heavy equipment. Not only had Bartgis been working on farms since he was a young man, but he worked as a heavy equipment operator, Smith said.

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Part of Bartgis' career was spent with Perry Engineering, said Smith, of Martinsburg.

Smith, a farmer himself, said the accident shows that "one slip" can cause a farming job to turn deadly.

"It doesn't take but a little flick of the hand for it to go too far," Smith said.

Bartgis was lifting the hay bale with a front-end loader, and it rolled down the arm of the tractor because it was not secured, Brining said.

Brining said Bartgis was pinned in the seat of the tractor when the bale struck him, although Smith said the bale rolled off Bartgis after it hit him.

Smith said Bartgis was lifting the bale up to a truck with a fork-shaped implement and it began rolling back when he tilted the bale.

Jefferson County, W.Va., extension agent Craig Yohn said there have been a number of serious farm accidents in the area in recent years.

About three years ago, a farmer was killed when a tractor rolled over on him as he was driving the piece of machinery on a slope at his Charles Town, W.Va.-area farm, Yohn said.

Yohn said a Shepherdstown, W.Va., man was killed when his tractor flipped and landed on him.

There was an accident in which a farmer's son got his leg caught in an auger, and an incident in which a farmer was seriously injured when a cable snapped in an elevator in a feed building, said Yohn.

"We've had our share in the tri-county area," said Yohn.

Farming has one of the highest fatality rates of all occupations, federal and local agricultural officials said.

It might be possible to reduce farming injuries through new engineering, increased education or new regulations, Jack L. Runyan said in a report for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1998.

But each of the areas has limitations, Runyan said in the report. For instance, most farms are exempt from federal regulations, said Runyan, who works for the Department of Agriculture's Food and Rural Economics Division.

Other problems include the fact that farm machinery outlasts many safety devices, which may not be replaced, said Runyan's report, which is on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Web site.

"There's an inherent danger with farm equipment. There's a lot of moving parts close to where the farmer works," said Yohn.

In 1992, there were 673 farm fatalities in the U.S., Runyan's report noted.

Statistics on farm fatalities in West Virginia could not be obtained Monday.

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