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Amish man, 18, asphyxiates in 65-foot silo in Indiana County

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Thursday, May 24, 2012, 12:18 p.m.

An Amish man died on Thursday when he was overcome by a lack of oxygen as he worked alongside his younger brother inside a 65-foot silo in Indiana County.

Indiana Coroner Michael Baker said Wollie Schlabach Jr., 18, began experiencing distress as he and his 14-year-old brother were leveling the contents of a silo at the farm on Sinktown Road in South Mahoning.

By the time rescue crews reached Schlabach, they could not revive him, Baker said. His brother survived.

Baker ruled that Schlabach died of asphyxia due to deprivation of oxygen in a confined space and has ruled the death an accident. No autopsy is planned and toxicology tests are pending, he said.

Plumville Volunteer Fire Department safety officer Dennis Rolls said the company got the call at 8:22 a.m. He said someone outside the silo heard the cries for help and made the 911 call.

Paramedics used a ladder to get an oxygen tank to the surviving boy to help him until a ladder truck from Indiana arrived to enable rescue workers to get him to safety and reach his brother.

The owners of the farm, Dave and Mike Kimmel, could not be reached for comment.

According to their uncle, Randy Kimmel, the silo had been filled with hay silage the day before.

"When it's blown in, it forms a peak," Kimmel said. "The Amish boys were trying to level it off and one was not able to get enough air."

He said that normally there are fans running to help circulate the air because of the gas that rises from the silage.

According to a 2011 article posted on the Penn State University website, the gases produced by silage include oxides of nitrogen. The levels of those gases are at their highest during the first day or two after the silo has been filled and that "very high concentrations of gas will cause immediate distress, which will result in a person collapsing and dying within minutes."

The article said "people should stay out of the silo for three weeks after it is filled and always should ventilate the silo with the silo blower for at least 20 minutes prior to entry."

"The owners are pretty broken up about what happened," Kimmel said.

The Bauer-Bly Funeral Home in Dayton is assisting the Schlabach family with funeral preparations.

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