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Grain Elevators Provide a Dangerous High
January 31, 2006

Source: Star Tribune


The Bunge, where a woman fell to her death, has long drawn urban climbers.


An abandoned grain elevator near Dinkytown has become a lure for urban climbers looking for adventure and a sweeping view of downtown Minneapolis.

"You can see the whole city downtown. You can see the streets perfectly," said Linden Funmaker, 18. She lives near the complex, where young people climb and explore the pipes and passageways of the main tower and about 20 attached silos.

But its allure can be deadly: A young woman fell to her death early Sunday through an open hatch on the 10th floor of a silo.

"It's scary in there," Funmaker said Monday, adding: "I am never going in there again."

Funmaker was at the elevator, known as the Bunge, only a few hours before Germain Vigeant, 20, fell about 3:40 a.m. Sunday.

Vigeant, a junior at the University of Minnesota, and another student, Damon Vaughan, 20, had climbed up about 10 floors. They had no flashlight and she fell through an open hatch into a grain silo, Vaughan told police. She died at the scene.

After watching the 10 p.m. news Sunday, a group of Vigeant's friends drove to the grain elevator. There, they toasted her, pouring out 40-ounce bottles of Colt 45 and Mickey's beer, said Kim Zeszutek, Vigeant's roommate for three years.

She said they put flowers -- carnations, mums and roses -- in many of the bottles and placed them on the ground, forming a heart. As snow fell, they talked, remembering Vigeant's wide smile, her dancing, her East Side (St. Paul) pride.

Katie Young, 20, a friend of Vaughan, said she knows "a few people who go up there regularly." She said people tell her they do it because it's a "novelty. ... It's for the same reasons people climb water towers."

On Saturday night, hours before Vigeant fell, Funmaker -- using her cell phone to light her way -- and a friend climbed up the staircase, with its broken steps, inside the main tower and then up two stories of ladder rungs to the flat roof. To the east is Van Cleve Park and the University of Minnesota; to the southwest lies the IDS Tower and downtown.

The investigation of Vigeant's death continues and likely will result in at least trespassing charges against Vaughan, who called police after Vigeant fell, said police spokesman Ron Reier. He said the complex owner, Bunge North America of St. Louis, had posted No Trespassing signs and that the two students were there without permission.

Former City Council Member Paul Zerby, who represented the area until January, said he had received complaints about the elevator from neighbors, mostly about graffiti, loitering and easy access.

"I worked with a neighborhood group to get more security from Bunge," he said. "There's a lot graffiti, and it's been a concern about people getting up there. There's not a lot responsiveness from Bunge."

He noted that Project for Pride in Living, a Minneapolis nonprofit developer, has been negotiating to buy the structure and convert it into affordable housing with upscale condos.

A spokeswoman for Bunge said by telephone from St. Louis that all interior doors of the facility were locked as of Monday afternoon, according to a security guard on site.

"We put the locks on, and they cut them off. It's an ongoing problem," said Deb Seidel, Bunge communications director. "We call them aggressive vandals."

Seidel said guards patrol the site "frequently."

She confirmed that Bunge is negotiating and hopes to sell the facility to Project for Pride in Living.

Abandoned elevator silos have long been a problem in Minneapolis. In October, a Robbinsdale man fell about 50 feet inside an elevator on Glenwood Avenue N. near Theodore Wirth Park. He survived with injuries and was cited for trespassing.

Minneapolis newspaper clippings dating to the mid-1980s cite 14 abandoned elevator complexes, four of which have been converted into housing or demolished. But at least 10 abandoned grain elevator complexes remain in the metro area. They make the news as sites of violent crimes, deaths, graffiti, big fires and a canvas for a large mural on Hiawatha Avenue S.

In September 1985, a 14-year-old boy fell to his death in an abandoned grain elevator at 2845 Garfield Av. S. That elevator was demolished at a cost of nearly $1 million.


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