A woman fell to her death late at night while trespassing with two others in an abandoned Minneapolis grain elevator near the University of Minnesota, authorities said Sunday.
What appears to be another illegal and risky instance of urban exploration occurred shortly before 10 p.m. Saturday at the Bunge grain elevator in the Como neighborhood, according to the Fire Department.
The woman, whose name has yet to be released, slipped from a 10th-floor ladder and landed 30 feet below in an empty metal grain bin. The others with her, a man and a woman, were unhurt.
Emergency responders needed nearly two hours to remove her. In the meantime, a "tech rescue" doctor from Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) was lowered inside to "administer care during the extrication," Fire Department officials said.
"Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, the victim passed away as a result of the severe injuries suffered from the fall," a statement from the Fire Department read. A fire official said the woman went into cardiac arrest once she was out of the elevator and died at HCMC.
When it was expanded in 1936, the Bunge elevator made Minneapolis the North American leader in grain storage. Located along 13th Avenue SE. next to railroad tracks and now owned by the nonprofit Project for Pride in Living Inc. (PPL), the elevator was abandoned in 2003 and since has routinely been a favorite of late-night thrill seekers in pursuit of a high perch for viewing the city.
In a statement Sunday night, PPL said that it had "worked diligently … over the years" to secure the site, and was saddened to learn of the accident. PPL added that it closed off the elevator again after the woman's death, and that it planned to work with city, neighborhood and University of Minnesota officials to ensure the site stays secured.
"Keeping our properties safe for the community is a top priority at PPL," the statement said.
The pursuit of urban exploring has gone on at another abandoned grain elevator in the city, too, also with tragic consequences.
"The Fire Department would like to remind the public of the dangers of urban exploring and trespassing in abandoned buildings, particularly large complexes such as [grain elevators]," the department statement read.
In January 2006, 20-year-old University of Minnesota student Germain Vigeant fell 10 stories to her death in the Bunge grain elevator, which tops off at more than 200 feet in height.
Vigeant had been drinking, according to the medical examiner, and the elevator was posted with many "no trespassing" signs. She was with Damon Vaughan, another 20-year-old student from the U at the time. He was cited for trespassing.
In October of the same year, Ron Block, 32, of Burnsville, fell to his death when a concrete beam gave way at the former Con-Agra elevator in the Bryn Mawr neighborhood of Minneapolis. Again, authorities said the victim had been drinking, and there were signs warning against trespassing. At that same site a year earlier, a Robbinsdale teenager survived a 50-foot fall.
At the same Con-Agra elevator in August 2014, a harrowing five-hour rescue saved a man who had fallen 60 feet. The man and two others ignored "no trespassing" signs to enter the empty building.
Courtney Celley, a photographer who chronicled the Bunge elevator's interior in 2010 and has climbed inside in recent weeks, said the structure "has been open for about a month," despite its history as a danger.
"There's a hole in the wall, and you can walk in right now," said Celley, 26, of St. Paul. "I drove by last night. I figured they would've have closed it."
Celley figured right, according to Deputy Fire Chief Don Leedham, who said the city had arranged to have the unwanted entry boarded up Sunday.
"It's pretty rickety inside," said Leedham, who was at the property Sunday morning. "It's pitch black in there. One bad step. That's all it takes."
A deadly magnet
Celley said the elevator is a magnet for visitors who consider themselves urban explorers or for those in search of a captivating view, as well as young people looking for a place to party.
"I wouldn't go at night," Celley said. "That's when a lot of people end up getting hurt."
PPL has had visions of turning the Bunge elevator into housing. The nonprofit bought it and surrounding property several years ago. It partnered with Habitat For Humanity and others to build affordable row houses and apartments.
"I know PPL has put a lot of work into security and even had people drive by," Minneapolis City Council Member Cam Gordon said, adding that he was receiving updates Sunday afternoon about the woman's death. "I'm not sure what they are doing now."
Gordon said he wants to meet with PPL officials "and look at [the property] in terms of short-term security … and what we are going to do with [the elevator]."
In its statement Sunday, PPL said that it would continue to work with the city to determine the fate of the site, which it said could include redevelopment or demolition.
At one point, PPL had been working with a developer to turn the elevator into luxury residences, but that succumbed to the recession. Recently, there was talk of a rock-climbing business at the structure.
A lot of people in the community "see it as a historical landmark" and want to see it avoid the wrecking ball and be developed, Gordon said.
"I feel really terrible [about the woman's death] and that I have been unable to help maintain security there," the council member said.