Authorities believe a truck driver was crushed to death
between pallets of lettuce that were being loaded by a forklift operator. Her
body was transported with the product from Arizona to Iowa this week.
Truck driver Sheila Ross went missing Saturday, Jan. 27,
after she and her husband stopped to pick up a load at the Dole Food Company
plant in Yuma, AZ.
On Tuesday morning, Jan. 30, a dock worker at a Hy-Vee
distribution center in Chariton, IA, opened a trailer and found the body of a
woman matching Ross' description amid pallets of lettuce.
Results of an autopsy released Wednesday afternoon showed
the body was Ross and that she died shortly after the accident from compression
asphyxiation, said Ron Rodriguez, an officer with the Yuma Police Department.
Rodriguez said Dane Ross, Sheila's husband, last saw her
when she left their truck at about 9:30 p.m. Saturday to finalize paperwork
before leaving the Dole plant in Yuma. Police believe Ross was walking in the
loading area and was pinned between lettuce boxes being loaded by a forklift,
Ross, a resident of McLoud, OK, never presented paperwork to
Dole employees, Rodriguez said.
Before investigators ruled out foul play on Wednesday,
police interviewed drivers, Ross' family and her husband, Dane.
"There have been absolutely no red flags going up with
anybody we've talked to," Rodriguez said.
The autopsy showed Ross died from compression asphyxiation
from being pressed by the pallets, according to the Iowa Division of Criminal
Debbie Dyer, public information officer for the Lucas
County, IA, Sheriff's Department, told Land
Line that Ross' autopsy performed Wednesday confirmed her identity and the
time and reason for her injuries.
Yuma Police received a crash course education in trucking
and loading dock operations, Rodriguez said.
"It was just kind of a freak thing," Rodriguez said. "It's
pretty hectic on those loading docks. They pack those things pretty tight."
Joe Rajkovacz, OOIDA's regulatory affairs specialist, said
loading docks can be among the most dangerous situations truckers are placed.
Large producers like Dole use forklifts that can load two
pallets at a time with each pallet stacked as high as seven feet, preventing
forklift operators from seeing directly in front of them, Rajkovacz said.
Rajkovacz spent nearly 20 years as a driver and says he
spent many hours parked at the Dole plant in Yuma waiting for produce loads.
Dozens of trailers are parked in loading bays at a time at the Dole plant while
several forklift operators load trucks and other forklifts stage loads for
later pickups, Rajkovacz said.
When Dole employees begin loading the trucks, drivers
usually leave their cabs and watch loaders to count pallets from yellow circles
painted onto the dock that are designated as safe for drivers.
"It can be a madhouse - I've been standing in the circle and
been shoved by pallets coming into my backside," Rajkovacz said. "They can't
see where I'm at."
Ross may have been surprised by a forklift making a quick
turn into a loading bay, Rajkovacz said.
"The (forklifts) move a lot faster than someone can walk,"
Police interviewed the forklift operator and said he has
been cleared of wrongdoing, according to Clint Norred, a spokesman for the Yuma
"She was in the loading zone and she was accidentally pushed
into the load of another truck by the forklift," Norred said. "I don't think
she was in the right spot – I don't think (truckers) are supposed to be in the
Arizona is one of 26 states or territories that operates its
own workplace safety agency and doesn't defer to the Occupational & Safety
Instead, the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and
Health is interviewing Dole employees in its investigation of Ross' death, said
Darin Perkins, an agency spokesman.
"We're looking to find out what happened and secondly, if
there were any violations of the OSHA standards that might have contributed to
the death," Perkins said.
Ross and her husband were a driving team, and Sheila Ross
was last seen by her husband as she exited the truck to complete paperwork
before leaving with a load from Dole, Dyer said.
Officials at Hy-Vee and Dole agreed to destroy lettuce in
the trailer where Ross died, said Chris Friesleben, spokesman for Hy-Vee.
"It was a very tragic set of circumstances," Friesleben
said. "Certainly our condolences go out to the family."
– By Charlie Morasch,