Granite slabs pin, kill 2 at Stone Warehouse in Sterling Heights

Fire chief: ‘Some safety precautions could’ve prevented it, without a doubt’

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published September 9, 2019

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Sterling Heights firefighters faced the task of recovering the bodies of two men who died after heavy granite slabs crushed them Sept. 9. 

The Fire Department reportedly got a 911 call around 2:33 p.m. informing them of an incident at the Stone Warehouse of Michigan, located at 7235 19 Mile Road in Sterling Heights. The report said an employee was trapped under several of the stone slabs.  

Rescuers later discovered that two men were killed in the incident. Police identified the victims as Benjamin Welch, 30, from Warren; and James Jones, 53, from Shelby Township.

Fire Chief Chris Martin said he was at the scene that afternoon. He called the situation “tragic.”

“Two workers got pinned by some granite that shifted,” he said.

According to Martin, rescue crews faced the task of moving the granite slabs — each weighing about a half ton — and they evacuated the building so they could do the work. He said the slabs varied in size, roughly from 5-by-9 feet to 6-by-10 feet. He said they are the kind of stone used for granite countertops.

“Dozens of large slabs of granite had shifted and broke, and there were many more slabs that needed to be moved to reach the trapped victims,” reads a statement from the Fire Department. “First responders sought the help of neighboring businesses with employees who had both the equipment to move granite slabs and the expertise and experience to do it safely.”

According to city officials, both the Sterling Heights police and fire departments were present at the scene. Assistance came from the Macomb County Technical Rescue Team, as well as three businesses: Luxury Granite and Design, Rock Solid Granite, and Tile & Stone Works. 

Martin explained the recovery process. 

“They use hi-los,” he said. “They have this device that is kind of like a clamp with some lever grips that can grab up to two granite slabs at a time.”

The workers carefully moved the wreckage for a few hours and then found one of the victims before 6 p.m. and the other after 9 p.m., the Fire Department said. Then public safety officials gave the business staff permission to re-enter the building.

“Preliminary investigations show the employees were using an overhead crane to move several slabs of granite,” the SHFD statement said. “When those slabs were lifted off their storage rack, several other slabs of granite shifted, causing a cascade of several more slabs of granite shifting. In that process, both employees were pinned, immediately suffering fatal injuries.”

Martin said the shifting granite was not something that was inevitable or “just going to happen.”

“Some safety precautions could’ve prevented it, without a doubt,” he said. 

Martin said the Macomb County Medical Examiner’s Office and the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration are conducting their own investigations of what took place. 

The Fire Department officials said they don’t know when Stone Warehouse will reopen. According to the business’s Facebook page, it is a wholesale supply warehouse of granite, quartz, marble, slab and tile. A company representative could not be reached for comment.

A GoFundMe page to pay for Welch’s funeral and memorial expenses described him as “greatly loved by countless family members and friends.”

“He was a devoted single father to the most amazing 2 year old girl who will always be surrounded by family, friends and the memory of her father,” the page states. “There is nothing that can ever explain the loss of an amazing person at such an early age.  Ben was highly intelligent, funny, witty, and sarcastic.”

A separate GoFundMe page set up for Jones described him as “a very kind and caring man.” 

“He had a crazy obsession with cars, especially Mopar products,” the page states. “He was very hard working and dedicated to his family. He loved his kids and grandkids more than anything.” 

Anyone who has more information about this incident is encouraged to contact the Sterling Heights Fire Department by calling (586) 446-2950.

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