NIOSH logo and tagline

Farm Owner Drowned in Ditch When Tractor Overturned to Side and Pinned Him, Michigan

Michigan Case Report: 17MI098
Report Date: 10/22/2019


In Summer 2017, a farm owner in his 50s died when the John Deere 2320 tractor he was using to mow the edge of a hay field rented to another farmer overturned to the side, pinning him in water at the base of a 10-foot deep ditch. The tractor was equipped with front forks and a PTO-driven brush hog mower attached to the rear of the tractor. There was approximately a two-foot space between the hayfield and ditch edge. He was working alone. When the decedent’s spouse returned home from work, he did not greet her at the house as was his usual practice. She checked the home and surrounding outbuildings and could not find him. His spouse called for help to find him. Family members began searching the property without success. As it was getting dark, they returned to a family member’s home. One family member continued to look. This family member noticed something “green” in the ditch and found the decedent’s overturned tractor with the decedent pinned under the tractor. Emergency response was summoned. The decedent was declared dead at the scene. When the tractor was raised from the base of the ditch, the tractor had a flat driver’s side rear tire. Post-mortem toxicology results found the decedent to have a 0.204% blood alcohol concentration (BAC) (legal limit to drive a motor vehicle is below 0.08 % and there is increased penalty for BAC of 0.17 % or greater).


  • Rollover protection structure removed and not replaced with an equivalent means of protection.
  • Field crop planted two- to three-feet from ditch wall edge.
  • Alcohol consumption prior to operating the tractor.
  • Possible terrain conditions at field/ditch edge (soft from heavy rain four days prior).

MIFACE investigators concluded that, to help prevent similar occurrences, tractor operators should:

  • Tractor owners/operators should ensure their tractors have a manufacturer approved, certified, tractor specific rollover protection structure (ROPS) and seatbelts installed.
  • Conduct a field survey to identify hazards, including hidden obstructions and establishing crop-planting limits/boundaries to maintain farm machine access.
  • Equipment operators should not consume alcohol before operating equipment.

Farm Owner Drowned in Ditch When Tractor Overturned to Side and Pinned Him, Michigan [PDF 1,138 KB]