Family of farmworker killed in Cassopolis accident files wrongful death suit

Published 12:07 pm Thursday, January 28, 2021

CASSOPOLIS — The family of a young man killed in a 2019 workplace accident near Cassopolis has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against his former employer.

Rocky Stoner’s estate filed the lawsuit against Sparks Cedarlee Farm, located in Penn Township near Cassopolis. Also included in the complaint are AK Enterprises LLC, which makes prefabricated structures, and Wakarusa Heavy Equipment, which owned and rented out a piece of machinery involved in the death.

Stoner was killed on May 23, 2019, while helping to build a storage facility on Sparks Cedarlee Farm’s property on Gards Prairie Road, according to the Cass County Sheriff’s Office. At the time of the incident, Stoner was moving a metal roof truss with another employee. Stoner held the steel truss while the other employee worked a forklift to move the truss into position. During this movement, the truss touched a nearby power line, electrocuting Stoner. The other employee immediately called 911 and rendered aid. Despite efforts from the other employee and emergency workers, Stoner was unable to be revived and was pronounced dead at Ascension Borgess-Lee Memorial Hospital in Dowagiac.

Stone was 19 years old at the time of his death.

An attorney representing Stoner’s family, Randall Levine of Levine & Levine Attorneys At Law in Kalamazoo, said the farm did not take proper safety precautions or provide employees with adequate training, which led to Stoner’s death. The lawsuit also claims AK Enterprises LLC is culpable for not providing sufficient safety warnings or instructions. It also holds Wakarusa Heavy Equipment culpable as it claims the company did not ensure the person operating its equipment was properly trained or certified.

“This was a 19-year-old kid who was a great kid,” Levine said. “He didn’t deserve to die so young. The tragedy that occurred that day was a situation where he was placed by his employer into an extremely dangerous situation, and there were no safety precautions taken.”

While Levine said the family knows that no amount of money will bring Stoner back, the lawsuit is meant to hold the parties listed in the complaint accountable for what may have been a preventable death.

“No mother should have to endure what [Stoner’s] mother has had to endure,” Levine said. “The dangers were obvious. The lawsuit is meant to protect others so that this never happens again.”

Carl Sparks, of Sparks Cedarlee Farm, said he could not provide comment on pending litigation but said those who worked with Stoner were saddened by his death.

“We are really sad about Rocky,” Sparks said. “He was a good employee and a good young man. He had a good testimony for his faith in Jesus Christ, and we are sorry that he is gone. “