Wisconsin boy killed in sawmill accident was doing work allowed by state law, records suggest

MADISON, Wis. — A 16-year-old boy killed in an accident at a Wisconsin sawmill appears to have been doing work allowed by state child labor laws, police records show.

Michael Schuls was attempting to unjam a wood-stacking machine at Florence Hardwoods on June 29 when the conveyor belt he was standing on moved and caused him to become pinned in the machine, according to Florence County Sheriff’s Office report. Schuls died in the hospital two days later.

His death comes as lawmakers in Wisconsin are loosening child labor laws.

State and federal labor agencies are investigating the accident in northern Wisconsin to determine whether workplace safety or child labor laws were violated.

Most work in sawmills and logging is prohibited for minors, but in Wisconsin, children 16 and older are allowed to work in planing mills like the one Schuls was stacking lumber in when the accident occurred. Roughly 17 minutes passed between when Schuls moved onto the conveyor belt and when a coworker discovered him stuck in the machine. Schuls had been working alone in the building.

First responders used a defibrillator and administered CPR before transporting Schuls to a hospital. He was later brought to a pediatric hospital in Milwaukee where he died. Florence County Coroner Jeff Rickaby said Tuesday that an autopsy identified the cause of death as traumatic asphyxiation.

“That’s caused by entanglement in a machine,” Rickaby said.

The Town of Florence is located near the border with Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and had a population of 641 people on the 2020 census. According to an obituary for Schuls, he attended Florence High School, where he played football, basketball, baseball and soccer.

“Our small community is in absolute shock,” a GoFundMe page set up for the Schuls family said.

Members of the family declined to comment. Schuls’ funeral was scheduled for July 15 in Florence.