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Answers in steelworker's death may be weeks or months off

Jonathan Arizzola, shown here with his two children, died Friday in an accident at Gary Works. Official reports on the cause of his death will not be available for at least several weeks.

Answers in the death of steelworker Jonathan Arizzola at Gary Works may be weeks or months off.

The 30-year-old Valparaiso resident was killed Friday night in an accident at U.S. Steel’s mill in Gary, the company’s largest. USW Local 1014 President Rodney Lewis said Arizzola had been working in a four-man crew assigned to troubleshoot a crane.

His widow Whitney Arizzola said he suffered an electric shock doing similar work earlier in the week and had been frequently complaining that cutbacks at the mill were making working conditions far more dangerous.

Arizzola’s death remains under investigation by a number of agencies.

The Lake County Coroner’s Office has not released a cause or manner of death. Chief Deputy Scott Sefton said the coroner’s office does not release such information, except in the case of homicides or suicides, until a toxicology report is completed because the results could potentially change the cause or manner of death.

Such tests are standard in death investigations. They can take up to six weeks because the samples are sent down to the Indiana Department of Toxicology’s Forensic Toxicology Lab in Indianapolis, where there’s a backlog.

The Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration also is investigating.

“By law IOSHA is required to investigate workplace fatalities,” spokeswoman Amanda Stanley said. “IOSHA will investigate whether any safety violations are present which caused or contributed to the fatality.”

Stanley said the state agency could investigate for several weeks or several months because it aims to be comprehensive. A report is issued when the investigation concludes.

“By law, IOSHA has six months from the date of the incident to complete its investigation,” she said.

U.S. Steel said it would work with all involved government agencies and the union to get to the bottom of what happened.

The United Steelworkers union has been protesting recent cutbacks at the mill, with Lewis and other union leaders saying the cutbacks have made it more dangerous to work there. Union officials say preventative maintenance is not getting done, work orders are piling up, and maintenance workers are assigned to roving work gangs where they work in parts of the 7-mile-long mill they’re unfamiliar with.

“While all the details are being sorted out one thing is indisputable: this is horrible news and this young man who was a husband, a brother, and a father, didn’t make it home last night,” Lewis wrote in a Facebook post to members. “Until we know exactly what transpired I won’t jump to conclusions but I will repeat something that has been said constantly in the past weeks. We have to watch each others’ backs.”

A search of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s database revealed three complaints about safety at the mill since 2011. Most safety concerns would typically be handled through the union.

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.