Heidi Yantes' story ran on the front page of the Wall Street Journal Friday.
Any other time, the Mantua widow would have found a justice in the public telling of the tale surrounding her husband's death. Heidi has struggled to right that wrong since Bryan Yantes was crushed to death in 1988 at Nucor Steel's Vulcraft factory in Brigham City, leaving her to raise their sons, ages 4 and 2, alone.But while presses across the country Thursday night spewed out millions of copies of Heidi's story and the stories of other Nucor deaths, a Utah jury granted Heidi a more potent justice.
After three hours of deliberation, the federal jury concluded that a tool manufacturer's negligence had killed Bryan, 27, and the jury awarded Heidi and her sons $1.2 million for their loss.
The Wall Street Journal reported Nucor Steel, the seventh-largest steel company in the nation, has the highest worker death rate in the industry; more than double the industry average, the paper reported. It linked Nucor's highly productive "go-go ways" with a human cost including Yantes' death.
The jury and Heidi blamed Signode Inc., a company that manufactures a tool that seals the ends of steel bands together. Signode made the tool that was supposed to seal the bands wrapped around the 30 tons of steel that crushed Bryan.
The bands securing two bundles of steel bars at the bottom of a stack of steel in the Vulcraft storage room snapped on March 14, 1988. Bryan was walking past the stack at the moment the bands snapped. When the broken bundles at the bottom began spilling "the entire stack of steel collapsed, smashing him against the neighboring stack," said Colin King, Heidi's attorney. "They couldn't get the steel off of him fast enough. He died of asphyxiation."A $1.2 million award for a wrongful death is a hefty settlement in a state known for its conservation jury verdicts. "I'm not aware of a bigger wrongful death verdict in Utah," said King, although he has known of - and won - larger awards for wrongful injuries. King tried the Yantes case in U.S. District Court this week with Brigham City lawyer Roger Baron.
But Heidi said she didn't sue Signode for the money. Bryan took out a second life insurance policy when co-worker Jan Gray, 25, was crushed by steel five months earlier. Gray was the mother of two children.
Thanks to money from the two insurance policies, Social Security and worker's compensation, Heidi can stay home with her children, now 7 and 5.
"I would have been fine financially. Things might have been a little more difficult than they will be now, but my basic reason for going through all this was to change things. To make a difference and not have Bryan's death be in vain."
She sued because Signode apparently knew its tool didn't always crimp the steel bands securely enough and yet it kept selling the tool, telling no one of the danger.
King said his experts tested the tool and found that the strength of the seal it created varied from band to band. Signode knew that, knew that people had died because of that, yet continued to sell the tool without warning companies that bought it of the danger, King said.
"I feel good that the jury found Signode guilty on all six counts," Heidi said. "Hopefully they will design a safer tool and people won't be killed. That is my greatest wish."
That and a fresh start. "I haven't been able to go on with my life, take myself and my boys in any one direction, until this is resolved."
Now that it is? "I'm just sitting here this morning saying, `Now what?' I think I would like to leave," the 29-year-old widow said, even though she has spent her life in Mantua, Box Elder County. "Up until now I've stayed because I didn't want to run from something I didn't want to face. Now I've faced it and I'm happy with the results.
"I'd like to start a new life. I think I and the boys deserve that."