It’s hard to conceive of an industrial machine more inherently terrifying than the wood chipper, whose giant steel maw grinds up everything it’s fed and then spits it out the back as mulch. This was burned into the public consciousness during the infamous wood-chipper scene in the film Fargo, where a killer disposes of his murder victim by feeding him into a chipper that spits out red blood onto the white snow. There was also a real-life case in the mid-1980s known as the Woodchipper Murder, where a husband disposed of his dead wife’s remains in a similar manner. It has also been suggested that any efforts to locate the corpse of missing Teamster’s boss Jimmy Hoffa will prove fruitless, as an unnamed source alleges he was fed into a wood chipper decades ago.
Despite all the endless kitty-cat hissing that we hear about how the American workplace is hostile toward women and that they face a “glass ceiling” that bars them from advancing into power positions, the truth remains that male workers face a “glass coffin”—i.e., 92.3% of workplace deaths happen to males. If the risk of being ripped apart by a machine fits into your definition of “danger,” it would appear that the American workplace is far more dangerous for males than for females.
A 2004 report by the CDC claims that between 1992-2002, “a total of 31 occupational injury deaths were attributable to mobile chippers. All decedents were male.…” Clearly, wood chippers are sexist against the male gender.
While researching cases of wood-chipper deaths that happened after 2002, what struck me was the highly disproportionate number of Hispanic males—or at least males with Hispanic surnames and features identifiable as Hispanic—that were victimized in this manner. I’m not including cases of incidental, non-work-related death by wood chipper, such as when a chipper accidentally detached from a man’s truck and killed three people or a man died by accidentally crashing into a wood chipper.
Nor am I alleging that this happens solely to Hispanic males, as the annals are replete with gringo males as young as six to those in their early teens who suffered death by wood chipper, and even a fifty-four-year-old male named Robert Morse, whose cause of death was listed by a coroner as “total morselization of body due to being pulled by a gloved hand into a commercial wood chipper.” What are the odds that a guy named Morse would die of “morselization”?
There’s even a case from 2003 where an adult woman died in a wood chipper, so perhaps there’s hope for gender equality in the workplace after all.
But assuming that the yearly rate of wood-chipper deaths from 2002 until the present was roughly the same as the CDC reported from 1992-2002, I will assume that somewhere in the vicinity of 37 Americans died in wood-chipper accidents from 2003 until the present.
I have uncovered 13 cases of male Hispanics dying via wood chipper in that time frame. There could be more—but 13 appears to be the minimum. This means that at the very least, male Hispanics account for over a third of all wood-chipper deaths in the USA, despite the fact that they comprise less than ten percent of the population.
This is not to imply that wood chippers are racially prejudiced against Hispanic males, because machines are unlike humans in that they are not prone to ethnic bias. This is also not to imply that Hispanic tree workers are clumsier than others, because anyone who’s ever observed them in action knows they can be quite lithe, agile, and graceful. This may suggest that Hispanic males are overrepresented in dangerous American jobs such as garden work involving wood chippers. Whether this is due to the fact that Hispanic males are more willing to do the sort of work that no one else wants to do, or whether they’re willing to do that work for less pay than others, is a question that will remain unsolved within the parameters of this article. My purpose is merely to illustrate that a disproportionate number of Hispanic males are being eaten alive by wood chippers, and as far as I know, I’m the only American journalist who is willing to break the unacceptable silence surrounding this horrific fact.
Herewith are the unlucky 13:
1. Antonio Barajas
In November of 2010, this 33-year-old employee of the Traverso Tree Service in northern California was reportedly loading tree debris into a wood chipper when a rope attached to his body accidentally got snagged in the machine. Barajas apparently died not from the chipper’s blades but from blunt head trauma as a result of being yanked violently toward the device.
2. Martimiano Morales Carreon
In December of 2010 while working alongside his son near avocado trees in the southern California town of Rainbow, Carreon reportedly tried pushing some tree branches into the chipper using his foot, which got entangled with the branches and pulled him into the machine’s unforgiving mouth. His son was able to pull him out, but Carreon died at the scene from major trauma to his body’s lower half.
3. Gabriel Gonzalez Ferrer
Late in 2007 while doing tree work in a Tustin, CA cul-de-sac, Mr. Ferrer was apparently feeding branches into a wood chipper when all of a sudden he fell into the device or was somehow sucked into it. His corpse was so mangled that investigators couldn’t even determine his gender by looking at it, but DNA tests later confirmed his identity.
4. Unnamed Guatemalan
In early May of 2005, an unnamed 42-year-old male Guatemalan tree-service worker in New York State was trimming trees behind a house when his hand was accidentally pulled into a tree trimmer. He apparently bled to death, as he was pronounced dead when paramedics arrived only minutes after the accident.
5. Hernan Gutierrez
This is the most recent case, as it happened in mid-2014 in south Florida. Gutierrez, 42, was involved in trimming palm trees and melaleuca plants when he suddenly fell or was pulled into a wood chipper. He began screaming for help, but coworkers were unable to summon assistance in time to save his life.
6. Julio Hernandez
In 2010 while working for a company called Timber Care in the Beaver Dam Lake neighborhood of New Windsor, NY, the 42-year-old Hernandez was eaten alive by a wood chipper. The machine’s sound was apparently so loud that it masked whatever final shrieks he made, as his employer only discovered Hernandez was missing after the machine shut itself off.
7. Rafael Jiminez
Jiminez was a 24-year veteran of the tree-service industry on a sunny April day in 2008 when he was feeding branches from a Chinese elm tree into a wood chipper. His right hand got stuck among some of the branches, and the machine pulled him into its mouth, consuming almost his entire body.
8. Martin Lara
In January of 2012, the 50-year-old Lara was working for a company called Bushwackers in the northern California town of Nevada City. A rope that had been tied around a bundle of wood somehow got wrapped around Lara’s neck. He began screaming for help as the machine pulled him toward it, but by the time coworkers could respond, he had already been decapitated.
9. Henry Lira, Sr.
Lira, a resident of Santa Cruz County, CA, died in a “freak accident” involving a wood chipper in 2010 at age 60. He was working at a profession that had employed him since 1969. His son eulogized him as having “the most devout work ethic I ever seen in any person.”
10. Miguel Marquez
Marquez was only 19 one morning in 2004 when, working in the San Jose, CA area, he tried kicking some blocked wood into a wood chipper. His feet and legs were drawn into the murderous device, killing him.
11. Rigoberto Martinez
In Allenhurst, NJ on a June morning in 2003, Martinez attempted to kick a stuck tree branch into a wood chipper. His right foot was sucked into the machine as well. Coworkers shut off the machine and called an ambulance, but Martinez was dead by the time it arrived.
12. Nery Castaneda Valenzuela
Young Mr. Valenzuela was only 17 years old on that fateful day in October 2010 when, working at a pallet shredder while unsupervised and apparently untrained, he was pulled into the machine and crushed to death.
13. Miguel Vargas
In September 2010 in Tampa, FL, Vargas was feeding tree branches into a wood chipper when he became entangled in some rope that was wrapped around the branches. He was apparently strangled to death by the rope, as a coworker shut off the machine before it pulled Vargas inside its steely jaws.