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WEEKLY FARM: Rural Life Continues Toll on Children

November 2, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Four-year-old Kyle Schulz rode with his grandmother one October night to bring grandfather Eddie Norris his supper on the Remington, Ind., farm where he worked.

As Norris loaded corn into a grain bin, Kyle played nearby. Scarcely 10 minutes later, the child was dead, caught and mangled by the auger, a machine with corkscrew blades that move the grain.

``It was just a slot there that we never thought was any kind of dangerous deal at all,″ said Tim Schwab, the farm owner who arrived just after the Oct. 24 accident. The auger had been covered except for a space 2 1/2 inches wide and a foot long, said Schwab, himself the father of four.

It’s a dark side of a farm life often portrayed as wholesome and enlightening.

Unlike other children, farm kids get to see their parents at work. Young farm visitors see a strange and enticing new world.

The children take on old-fashioned responsibility at an early age, sometimes out of need. They’re even encouraged by the state. While other states toy with limits on youthful driving, North Dakota recently allowed 16-year-olds to drive semis so they can haul grain and combines. They can drive cars at 14.

But farming constantly rates as one of the most hazardous jobs around for adults, let alone children.

Animals, even horses, and open-air machinery _ often old _ demand the kind of watchfulness and common sense needed around mines and construction sites.

Yet 8- or 9-year-olds often drive tractors, traditionally one of the most dangerous pieces of equipment. Children age 11 and up drive pickup trucks down gravel roads that require the best skills of seasoned adults.

Because of the shorter days and long hours at harvesting, October tends to be especially dangerous. The past month was no exception.

Near Knoxville, Iowa, on Oct. 5, 21-month-old Jacob Carle Light was riding in a tractor with his father, Steven. The father stepped out to unload a bale of hay and left the boy on the tractor. Somehow the tractor took off and the child fell. He was crushed by the vehicle.

``It was a father and son out on the tractor, and an accident took place,″ said chief deputy Gary Verwers of the Marion County sheriff’s office.

Nine-year-old Richard Newton of Riceville, Iowa, was killed Oct. 16 on his family farm when his father, Lee, accidentally backed over him with a tractor.

And 12-year-old Aaron Hilleren of New Town, N.D., died on Oct. 27 when the 1993 Dodge Dakota pickup he was driving after dark spun out of control on a washboard road. Aaron’s 12-year-old passenger, Kelly Baker, escaped injury.

Aaron was taking some trash from the family farm to a trash dump less than a mile away on the isolated township road, the Highway Patrol said. The boy’s father, David, happened to be approaching the spot from a different road and saw the accident.

Aaron’s stepbrother, Donavon, a 24-year-old college student, said Aaron enjoyed the newfound sense of power and control from driving.

``From what I understand, he was always real proud about getting into fifth gear,″ he said.

Donavon plans to start running the 1,000-acre farm next summer. His apprenticeship includes driving at age 8 or 9 _ and his own brush with disaster.

At age 13, he caught his coat sleeve in the power drive of a grain auger. It ripped off the clothing but spared his arm. Many youths have been far less lucky. Amputations are common.

``It’s really easy for stuff like that to happen,″ he said.

Perhaps 300 people age 20 or younger die annually from farm injuries, according to studies based on data now 15 years old. Tens of thousands of children are injured.

They’re accidents that generally cause more private grief than public outcry, haunting families and small communities. As one coroner jotted down in a report, saying more than he intended, ``The missing blood is in the grain.″

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