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Indiana farmer’s tractor death is a somber safety reminder

THORNTOWN, Ind. — Last month, a Thorntown farmer was fatally injured when a box truck struck his tractor near his farm. Described by family and friends as an easygoing man with a caring nature, Joseph “Joe” C. Garst, 66, died May 16 near his corn, soybean and hay operation.

He and his wife, Wanda, and children – Jody, Sarah, Jeremy, Kevin and Ellie – tended the farm that also housed cattle, dairy goats and other livestock. He began farming immediately after studying agricultural engineering at IUPUI and Purdue University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree.

“He loved being a farmer and he loved helping people,” Wanda said. “He enjoyed being out on the farm and doing everyday activities on the farm, working for himself, and he always thought this was the best place to raise a family.

“He enjoyed watching his plants grow and enjoyed both the planting and harvest seasons.”

Just minutes prior to the collision, Garst had helped someone who had a flat tire get back on the road. That was just the kind of person he was, Wanda noted – always helping somebody.

Garst grew up on a farm near Whitestown, which was one of the reasons he and Wanda hit it off when they began dating about 32 years ago. “On our first date, we went out to dinner,” she recalled. “After that, the farm he lived on had a brush pile, so we went from the restaurant back to the farm and shoved the brush pile together.

“That was our first date. And because I grew up on the farm, I thought that was totally fine, because I was a farm girl.”

Garst was a compassionate man who gave even his organs to help others after his death. His family would like any memorial donations to be made to Boone County 4-H Clubs or another charity in his name.

Wanda said her husband’s philosophy in farming and in life was one of hope and consolation, even under the heartbreaking circumstances of his accident.

Lesson in safety

No amount of experience can guarantee a farmer’s safety in the midst of strenuous and potentially dangerous work they do every day. Caution and awareness are the best ways to keep safe doing such tasks, according to Phil Kaatz, an extension educator and safety expert at Michigan State University.

“I’ve had the opportunity to provide talks on farm safety over the years, and the reminders farmers see in print or hear in person help to reinforce what they may really already know,” he explained. “I almost always have a farmer or two encourage me to continue with safety programs – many times the farmers have been involved in a farm accident or have had a family member involved in a life-threatening accident.”

Kaatz recommends producers using a tractor review these simple, yet important, safety measures:

•When driving on the road, always follow all traffic laws and signs

•Always wear a seat belt – many farmers ignore this simple safety measure, and in the event of a collision, may be thrown from the tractor

•Always lock brake pedals together for road travel

•Children should not ride in the tractor; the extra seat in a tractor is an educational training seat, not a buddy seat

•Drive at a safe and reasonable speed to ensure proper stopping distance and maneuverability

•Avoid busy times of the day when moving equipment, either during morning or afternoon drive times

•Make sure all tractors have a Slow-Moving Vehicle (SMV) sign that is in good condition – a SMV sign must be visible in the center on the rear of all equipment being towed by the tractor

•Proper signals are required for tractors. Tractors must be equipped with lights if operated on public roads at night, or under conditions of reduced visibility. Highway travel requires headlights, red taillights and reflectors.

Flashing amber lights provide day and night warning to traffic approaching from either direction. Turn signals provide added highway safety. The more highly visible the equipment is, the better.

•When possible, allow traffic behind you to pass when safe

•Stay in your lane to avoid going over the center line of the highway