Jorge Villafuerte III left nine children behind when he was run over and killed by a large forklift this month during construction of the $2.6 billion Enbridge pipeline project across northern Minnesota.
"A hardworking man, he did everything he could to provide for his children," wrote his oldest daughter, 21-year-old Mikayla Villafuerte, in his obituary. "Though often out of town for work, he loved to spend time with them and was always eager to brag about his kids to anyone willing to listen."
Details of his death were included in a police report released this week. The Aitkin County Sheriff's Office has preliminarily ruled the death an accident; the Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration is still investigating.
Born in Mexico on Oct. 9, 1975, Villafuerte started his family in Utah and considered himself a "proud union pipeliner." He was among the first 2,000 workers to arrive on the long-awaited and controversial Enbridge Line 3 project.
The fatality came less than a month after construction began on the oil pipeline that crosses 340 miles of Minnesota.
In the predawn hours of Dec. 18, Villafuerte was at a construction yard checking a list of materials while standing behind a "telehandler," an industrial forklift, authorities said.
As it started backing up, a co-worker jumped out of the way but Villafuerte was struck "almost immediately" by the rear passenger tire, according to the Sheriff's Office. Before the operator stopped the vehicle, "the machine's tire had backed over the full length of his body."
Villafuerte was dead by the time emergency responders arrived at about 7:17 a.m.
County officers found the driver of the forklift was not impaired at the time of the accident and found no criminal wrongdoing in its initial investigation.
The driver told deputies Villafuerte was in "a blind spot while he was operating the machine and that he never saw him while he was backing up." Villafuerte had been wearing a reflective vest.
Enbridge briefly paused work at the site Dec. 18 and said "safety standards and protocols were reinforced."
Villafuerte worked for Eau Claire, Wis.-based Precision Pipeline, records from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) indicate. Precision is the general contractor for Line 3 construction from Clearwater, Minn., to Enbridge's terminal in Superior, Wis. The company didn't respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
Villafuerte is the fourth Precision Pipeline worker to be killed in an on-the-job incident since 2010, OSHA records show.
In 2016, a Precision Pipeline worker in Illinois died after he was hit by a truck designed to carry heavy equipment. According to OSHA's website, the agency did not cite Precision for any safety violations in that accident, or in a fatal 2012 incident in West Virginia when a section of pipeline crashed through the windshield of an excavating machine that a worker was operating.
However, OSHA cited Precision for two "serious" work-safety violations concerning a 2010 fatal incident in Nevada when a piece of pipe got loose and fell into a trench on top of a worker. OSHA fined the company $28,000, though the case was settled for $14,000.
Precision's largest penalty for a safety violation in recent years stemmed from a 2018 accident in Pennsylvania that left a man hospitalized and his arm broken.
OSHA fined Precision $73,000 for a "repeat" safety violation and another $13,000 for a serious violation. The company eventually settled on $50,000 in fines for two serious violations, erasing the more blemishing "repeat" citation.
Precision has been involved in the construction of many large U.S. oil and gas pipelines, including the Dakota Access pipeline, the main artery for North Dakota's oil fields and the focus of large protests in 2016.
Founded in 2004, Precision Pipeline was acquired in 2009 by MasTec, a global construction and engineering company based in Coral Gables, Fla.