Mitchell company held responsible for young woman’s death

Eye on KELOLAND

MITCHELL, S.D. (KELO) — A young Mitchell woman died on the job last fall and now her employer has been cited and fined by OSHA for exposing workers to hazardous chemicals and toxic substances. Her family never realized the dangerous environment that 20-year-old Molly Schladweiler was working in, until it was too late. Our KELOLAND News investigation looks into what went wrong at Custom Genetic Solutions, a bull stud facility in Mitchell, where Schladweiler had worked since she was 15.

20-year-old Molly Schladweiler was no girly girl.

“She was a lot of everything. This would have been her third year in Mitchell Tech. She got her motorcycle license. She got her CDL truck driving license,” Molly’s father Dave Schladweiler said.

“We always told her that was a good line–that her first job was collecting bull semen,” Molly’s mother Dixie Schaldweiler said.

Moly Schladweiler

Molly’s parents Dave and Dixie Schladweiler now question whether they should have suspected a problem with her job at Custom Genetic Solutions sooner.

“She was tired a lot and the girls in the office would make a comment that they couldn’t grow plants–that the plants died. We probably should have picked up on that,” Dixie said.

The Schladweilers now believe that may have been caused by liquid nitrogen evaporating in the air and reducing the oxygen. Custom Genetic Solutions employees filled containers and cryogenic freezers with liquid nitrogen. That’s what Molly was doing on the night of November 20th when she died.

“We would never have allowed her to work where there was danger. And we have to live with that now, because we think maybe we should have tried and gone and looked. We knew she was filling tanks and we told her to be careful–‘oh yeah yeah,'” Dixie said.

Molly worked at Custom Genetic Solutions outside of Mitchell for five years

The Davison County Sheriff’s office got a call on the early morning hours of November 21st to Custom Genetic Solutions. According to the sheriff’s report, a coworker alerted others that Molly was dead and tried to go into the building to shut off the values to the liquid nitrogen tanks. But he collapsed and had to be pulled out. He began seizing, but recovered. By the time deputies arrived, the “doors to the building were open” and there was “frost on the outside of the building along the foundation. as well as frost on all the equipment.

Molly’s death certificate lists her cause of death as: “Hypothermia due to liquid nitrogen exposure”

“Molly actually froze solid—froze from the liquid nitrogen. completely,” Dixie said.

From Molly Schadlweiler’s death certificate

In the business’ surveillance video, Molly can be seen filling the nitrogen tanks. At 7:15 p.m., Molly checks on nitrogen tank #5. That is the last time she is seen in the video and according to officials on the scene, “the incident occurred at that time.”

“It was the worst day ever. And there’s nothing you can do about it as a parent,” Dave said.

Mitch and Molly Schaldweiler, who are just 17 months apart, were also roommates.

“She was a really good employee for them and a really good sister, probably my best friend,” Mitch said.

“This is our daughter, we couldn’t have loved her more,” Dixie siad.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined Custom Genetic Solutions $122,602 for two willful and three serious violations.

OSHA says the company failed to implement safety measures, such as oxygen monitoring or ventilation to ensure that the rapidly expanding liquid nitrogen did not displace the oxygen in the room.

In addition, the company failed to train employees on the hazards of working with nitrogen gas, and on how to detect the accumulation and release of the gas.

“The ventilation–them not having any ventilation and why she was there by herself is just… I don’t see an excuse for it. I don’t see how you can justify that,” Mitch said.

OSHA has ordered the company to install a fixed oxygen monitoring system and an industrial ventilation exhaust system and train employees on how to use it safely and develop an escape route in the event of a leak or spill.

KELOLAND Investigates repeatedly contacted Custom Genetic Solutions by phone and email and even knocked on the door, but we were told no one there at the time could answer our questions.

“They always have no comment about the whole situation. It speaks volumes about them,” Mitch said.

The family says the company has offered to set up a scholarship in Molly’s name, but that gesture falls short.

“It’s a great idea, great gesture–but I think they probably need to take that money and invest in a venting system. I think I’d rather have the money go there than a scholarship,” Mitch said.

Now Molly’s family holds onto the memories, like sweet little notes she left for her mom over the years.

“Most kids don’t get the amazing parents that I have. I love you guys and I hope you have a great day. And always remember I love you, Molly K,” Dixie reads from her late daughter’s letter.

Kennecke: What do you think she’d want for you now?
Mitch Schladweiler: I don’t know. She’s very unselfish. She wouldn’t been for all these cameras and stuff and for us talking about her.
Kennecke: But you are talking. Why is it important that you talk?
Mitch Schladweiler: Because they need to fix their problems. If this happens to somebody else, it will just be all over again for somebody else {wipes tears}.

Custom Genetic Solutions’ attorney provided KELOLAND News with the following statement:

“All of us at CGS remain heartbroken over the loss of Molly.  She was an important part of our team and a wonderful person.  Consistent with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s requirements, immediately after learning of the November 20th incident we notified OSHA and cooperated fully with its investigation.  Last month, we received notice of OSHA’s findings, which are flawed and unfortunately just plain inaccurate in several respects.  As a result, we filed notice to contest OSHA’s findings and the matter is now in litigation before an administrative law judge. CGS provides a safe workplace for all of its employees—several of whom are family members of CGS owners—and we are committed to making our safe work environment even safer.”

Mark A. Fahleson, Attorney

Molly’s church in Mitchell honored her life through “Molly’s Ministry,” which put together 250 activity kits for children in the community.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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