Join Riverfront Times Press Club. Because No News is Bad News.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

"This Was No Accident," Bob Cassilly's Widow Says

Posted By on Tue, May 31, 2016 at 6:46 AM

Page 2 of 4

click to enlarge Bob Cassilly at Cementland — his unfinished masterwork, and also the scene of his 2011 death. - PHOTO BY GIOVANNA CASSILLY
  • Bob Cassilly at Cementland — his unfinished masterwork, and also the scene of his 2011 death.

The fact that Bob Cassilly died at Cementland has time and again proven a complication. Beyond the difficulties of its topography, the site straddles the city/county line. Attorney Watkins says the spot where Cassilly was found was actually located in the St. Louis County municipality of Riverview — giving Riverview Police jurisdiction. (A spokeswoman for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, which instead handled the investigation, disagrees, saying the street address was in St. Louis city.)

The St. Louis police investigation was minimal. They never interviewed Cassilly's widow. They never established whether the death occurred on Saturday or Sunday.

A spokeswoman defending the police investigation notes that OSHA also looked at the scene, as well as the medical examiner's office. But OSHA's two reports are almost laughable in their brevity. A one-line summary in the first report makes it clear just how unprepared the agency was to deal with the unusual circumstances: “A museum piece fell on an employee killing the employee during the erection of a museum piece.” In the second report, that's been changed to “a sole proprietor was killed during construction of a private property.” The report notes that “no inspection” is planned.

The medical examiner's office was more thorough. By the time its investigator arrived, the news media was already there, but emergency personnel assured the staffer that the bulldozer had not been moved. It was “in a mostly upright position, leaning to the right” at the bottom of a steep hillside.

“On initial examination, the exterior of the equipment was noted to have some damage which could be consistent with rolling down the hillside,” the investigator wrote, theorizing that the dozer must have tumbled over at least once and then landed upright. The top of the cab compartment was dented; the side mirror was cracked. Orange-colored ear protectors midway up the hillside must have slipped out along the way.

But there were plenty of questions that no one seems to have answered.

“I was unable to obtain information at the scene at the time of the investigation about the known previous condition of the equipment being operated by the deceased,” the investigator wrote. “It was unknown if it was owned or a rental. How much, if any, experience the deceased had on this piece of equipment was unknown to anyone interviewed by this Investigator at the scene.”

It's an odd statement, since Cassilly's experience with the dozer — his 1999 model John Deere 750J — was well-documented. More critically, had the roof been dented before the weekend in question? The report doesn't spend any more time on the question, much less consider whether the machine could have suffered only a “dent” by tumbling down a hillside.

And while bulldozers can, and do, roll over, fatalities are rare. One of the few studies that looks at the phenomenon was done in 2001, with the Centers for Disease Control surveying OSHA data on “mining accidents while operating a bulldozer” from 1988 to 1997. In those ten years, across the nation, the study found just fourteen deaths attributable to the dozers “rolling over, falling over an edge or falling into a hidden void.” Seven were caused by the operator being thrown from the dozer; the other seven were caused by asphyxiation or drowning. None matches the description of Cassilly's death scene.

John Deere's spokesman was not aware of any studies that look at bulldozer rollovers, nor was a spokeswoman for the larger Association of Equipment Manufacturers. John Deere confirmed that a rollover protection device would have come standard on the model operated by Cassilly — making it less likely that he could have been crushed while in the bulldozer's cab.

But “crushed” doesn't match what the medical examiner found. Cassilly's spine did not snap, the report shows. Instead, there was a skull fracture, “multiple contusions of the right neck” and “multiple contusions and abrasions present on the upper back.” Numerous ribs were fractured.

To Cassilly's widow, the findings are horrifying.

“They told me in the morgue it was quick and painless, that he didn't feel a thing,” she says. “That is not what happened here. I come from a place of common sense — I challenge anyone to come look at this and read this report and come to the conclusion it was an accident.”

She's convinced the crime scene was staged — or at minimum misinterpreted. She believes her husband was beaten to death: “Look at it yourself and read the report. This man was brutally beaten from behind.”

Dr. Michael Graham, the chief medical examiner for the city of St. Louis, acknowledges that the report didn't attempt to answer numerous questions you might be familiar with from CSI, including the time of death. And that's for a simple reason: Nothing contradicted the idea of it being an accident.

“We approach the scene neutrally,” he says. “When you get all this information together, you've got a guy in the caged portion of a bulldozer with the kind of injuries you'd expect when something rolls over. Unless there's solid information suggesting otherwise, as far as I'm concerned, you've got the answer.” Graham also says he believes Cassilly's injuries are not typical from what you'd see in a beating, mainly because “his head and neck injuries are all on one side.”

But, he says, a case is never fully closed.

“We may be at a stopping point, but we've sometimes come back to cases twenty years later,” he says. “There's nothing that makes me go back here to say that the initial scenario was not correct. But, given new information, we can always go back and look at a case again.”

Riverfront Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of St. Louis and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep St. Louis' true free press free.

Read the Digital Print Issue

September 23, 2020

View more issues


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In St. Louis

© 2020 Riverfront Times

Website powered by Foundation