IONIA, Mich. (WOOD) — A judge declined to impose any jail or probation for the owner of a Michigan meat processing company after a teenage worker lost his hand in a 2019 incident with a meat grinder.
The owner of US Guys Processing, 55-year-old Darin Wilbur of Saranac, was ordered Tuesday to pay a $500 fine, a $500 cost, two fees totaling $143 and any residual restitution owed to the young employee.
The victim, who was 17 at the time, lost his hand in November 2019 while operating a meat grinder under Wilbur’s supervision, according to the Michigan Attorney General’s Office.
The AG’s Office said Michigan Wage and Hour Division investigators found that the teen was employed illegally under the state’s Youth Employment Standards Act and that he didn’t have the work permit needed for people under 18.
In June, Wilbur pleaded guilty to employing a minor in a dangerous profession.
During Wilbur’s sentencing this week, Ionia County District Judge Raymond Voet described the situation as “a horrible tragedy” but said he saw no compelling reason to impose jail or probation.
“I think the horror of the incident and the obvious remorse expressed by Mr. Wilbur assures the court that this is not likely to happen again,” he said, saying that jail would be merely “symbolic” but not impactful.
At the sentencing, Voet said he recognized the need for child protection laws but noted the local viewpoint, too.
“Ionia County is a farming county, and I know a lot of people in this county view children working, sometimes around dangerous machinery, as part of growing up,” he said.
The judge also pointed out that the 17-year-old employee was nearly 18.
“Two months later, we wouldn’t even be here,” Voet said.
Before the sentencing, Wilbur’s attorney spoke, saying that Wilbur had been an “upstanding member for the community for many years” and had “mentored a lot of troubled kids.”
“In this instance, [Wilbur[ took in a 17-year-old-and-10-month individual who had dropped out of high school,” the attorney said. “He did not realize he needed work permits.”
When the 17-year-old lost his hand, Wilbur’s attorney claimed Wilbur had warned the 17-year-old to never put his hand inside the meat grinder. The attorney further claimed the 17-year-old later apologized to Wilbur, saying, “I did what you told me not to do.”
During the sentencing, the judge also said the 17-year-old “admitted that he’d been warned” to be careful around the machine.
Wilbur’s attorney said his client had “suffered through this,” paying hundreds of thousands in administrative fees, business losses, lawyer fees and other costs. He also claimed Wilbur had post-traumatic stress disorder from witnessing the 17-year-old lose a hand.
“Sometimes, it feels a bit like no good deed goes unpunished,” Wilbur’s attorney said.