'Wonderful' Father of 3 Dies at Work After Falling Into Metal-Melting Container: 'A Hard-Working Teddy Bear'

·2 min read
Steven Dierkes
Steven Dierkes

Steven Dierkes/Facebook

An Illinois man "died instantly" after falling into a crucible at the Caterpillar foundry in Mapleton last week, according to officials.

Steven Dierkes, 39, of Peoria, "was apparently working near" the crucible, "when he accidentally fell in" on the morning of June 2, Peoria County Coroner Jamie Hardwood wrote in a statement obtained by PEOPLE.

As noted by The Charlotte Observer, a crucible is a "vessel in which metallic elements are melted to be cast into new objects" and "can withstand very high temperatures," according to a California-based nonprofit organization and art school.

He died of "thermal annihilation," according to the statement, which noted that foul play is not suspected.

"This was such a sad case for his family, who never got to say goodbye," Hardwood wrote.

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Dierkes was the father of three daughters — ages 4, 5 and 12 — according to an obituary.

Dierkes, who turned 39 one month prior to his death, was described in his obituary as "a hard-working teddy bear of a man with calloused hands and a tender heart."

Steven Dierkes
Steven Dierkes

Steven Dierkes/Facebook

Lisa Miller, a Caterpillar spokeswoman, said the company was "deeply saddened" by the employee's death, according to The Peoria Journal Star.

"Our thoughts are with this employee's family, friends and colleagues," Miller told the outlet in a statement. "The safety of our employees, contractors and visitors is our top priority."

Caterpillar did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

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The Peoria County Coroner's Office and Peoria County Sheriff's Office were informed of the accident just before 10 a.m. on June 2, according to the coroner's statement.

The caller stated a man had been "involved in an industrial accident" at the Mapleton foundry and "was obviously deceased."

"The contents of the crucible were removed and placed in another container to cool. Several hours later, my staff and I were able to sort through the metal fragments and find his remains," the coroner said.

The PSCO and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are investigating the cause of the accident.

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Dierkes was "a loving person who enjoyed laughter from any source he could find," his obituary stated.

"Most of all, he was a wonderful loving father to his daughters that he absolutely adored," the obituary continued. "He will be greatly missed.

Dierkes is the second person to die at the Mapleton foundry in the last six months, according to the Journal Star. The outlet reported that a 50-year-old man fell to his death at the facility in December 2021 after he allegedly stepped off a ladder and fell 20 feet through a hole in the floor.