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Employee dies at Modesto company after being trapped beneath forklift

A 21-year-old Delhi resident was killed while on the job,operating a forklift, at Champion Industrial Contractors in Modesto on Wednesday afternoon, officials report.

The Modesto Fire Department responded to a call for a person trapped at about 2:30 p.m. and found Fred Von Gunten lll pinned underneath the vehicle.

Crews used airbags to stabilize the forklift and remove Von Gunten, according to the Fire Department’s incident summary. Lifesaving efforts were made but he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Von Gunten lll’s father, Fred Von Gunten Jr., said he is dismayed and frustrated by his son’s death. Von Gunten Jr. said his son “had no business” operating a forklift, nor did he have “any training, any experience (or) any certifications,” because he was hired to be a delivery driver for Champion Industrial.

The incident is being investigated by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

Derek Moore, public information officer for the California Department of Industrial Relations, could not comment on whether Von Gunten was certified or trained to be a forklift operator, due to the ongoing investigation into the incident.

“Cal/OSHA gets reports from third parties, but it isn’t verified information until we open an inspection. Sometimes what is reported to Cal/OSHA isn’t always fact,” said Moore.

Von Gunten Jr. reiterated on Friday that his son was not hired to be an operator, but rather a delivery driver.

A message left with Champion Industrial seeking comment was not responded to as of midafternoon Thursday.

No information was available from authorities on the circumstances of the fatal incident.

Merced College student was recently engaged, dad says

Von Gunten Jr. said his son had just begun his life after graduating from Hilmar High School a few years ago. He was taking some classes at Merced Junior College while working at Champion Industrial.

Von Gunten lll’s father described him as a “character” and “quite the comedian,” who carried himself with an intent to make others smile through his sense of humor.

He liked to play video games, lift weights and watch his favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys — the same as his dad’s. Von Gunten lll recently proposed to his girlfriend as well and planned to marry her soon.

“It just feels like a bad dream, but then you wake up and it’s still here,” said Von Gunten Jr.