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Report details worker's death at Sahuarita mine

A 41-year-old Asarco truck driver died at a Tucson-area mine in July because the company failed to make sure there was enough lighting at the Mission Mine’s dump sites, according to a report from the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Asarco also hadn’t set up rules “limiting access of light-duty pickups” at the dump site, and the victim, Gabriel Benitez, had been using his cell phone from that location, according to the report.

Benitez died about 9 p.m. July 27 when his pickup was crushed by a 320-ton haul truck at the open pit mine west of Sahuarita.

According to the MSHA report, Benitez’s co-workers had repositioned the dumping location to the north end of the dump site shortly before the incident. However, they failed to reposition the one light plant in the area, which was still illuminating the previous location, the report stated. One of the four lights of the light plant also wasn’t working.

At least one of Benitez’s co-workers told Pima County sheriff’s deputies that Benitez’s operating and strobe lights were on that night, but witnesses told MSHA investigators his lights were off and investigators found the light switch in the off position.

The location of the incident was within the “designated traffic pattern for the haul trucks,” but the investigators discovered “the operator had no procedures to address light-duty trucks on dump sites.”

In addition, “according to interviews and on-site observations, the dump site is one of the few areas of the mine where cell phone coverage is available.”

MSHA issued two citations to Asarco and required the company to establish new traffic control policies and a new training plan that addresses lighting and dump sites.

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Amy Louviere, a spokeswoman for MSHA, said the Office of Assessments has not yet determined what penalty to attach to violations.

Telephone and email messages left for Asarco were not returned.

Benitez, who had more than five years of mining experience, is survived by his wife of 24 years, two daughters and a son. The other driver had worked at the mine for 2½ months.

This piece was first published by the Green Valley News.

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