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Maintenance worker falls to death at Big Stone Power Plant

A Wisconsin man died Monday in an industrial accident at the Big Stone Power Plant in Big Stone, S.D.

The victim, Roberto Pearson, 24, of Superior, Wis., was employed by Industrial Contractors Inc. of Bismarck, N.D., an outside contractor that was retained to perform maintenance at the facility.

"He was working on the fifth floor of the plant at a material lift opening, and he fell through that opening," at 7:35 a.m. on Memorial Day, said Bruce Beelman, area director of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration office in Bismarck, N.D. The fatal fall was from approximately 70 feet.

OSHA was on site Tuesday and Wednesday to investigate the accident, according to Otter Tail Power Co., a co-owner of the plant. It could take weeks before findings are released, Beelman said.

Born in Columbia, Roberto Pearson was adopted as an infant by Martin and Jerine Pearson of the Cozy Corner area in southwestern Douglas County. He graduated from Webster High School and studied welding at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in Superior before going to work for Stanley LaBounty in Two Harbors and later entering a boilermaker apprenticeship program as a welder and high rigger.

At the time of his accident, he was in the fourth day of a "straight through" air filtration maintenance job at the power plant -- work that required 12-hour work days, said Martin Pearson.

"We still haven't been told much" specific information about the accident, his father said, although family members learned Roberto remained conscious and was transported to a hospital in Ortonville, Minn., after the fall.

"They were trying to relieve pressure on his brain," Martin Pearson said, but lacked the needed equipment. Roberto died before responders were able to transfer him to a larger medical facility.

In a Friday statement to employees, Otter Tail Power Co. said it was told by OSHA that it will not be included in the investigation nor in its potential liability findings because it was not Pearson's employer, and had no active role in the work ICI was performing.

ICI President/CEO Lloyd Bushong declined to comment.

In addition to his parents, Roberto Pearson is survived by a sister, Erica of New York City; his grandparents, Robert and Lyla Elofson of Bellevue, Neb., and Dick and Darlene Pearson of Puposky, Minn.; and his girlfriend, Heidi Fredericks. He was a member of Boilermakers Local 647 in Ramsey, Minn.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Northland Community Center in Cozy Corner.