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College student found dead in dumbwaiter

    Winona State University student Brooke Baures.

FOUNTAIN CITY, Wisc. >> Authorities in Wisconsin are investigating the death of a 21-year-old college student and former gymnast who was found dead in a restaurant’s food-service elevator.

The body of Brooke Baures, a student at Winona State University, was found about 8 p.m. Monday at the WingDam Bar and Saloon in Fountain City, Wis., during her work shift there, police said.

According to Police Chief Jason Mork, Baures’ shift began at about 4 p.m. During the shift, he said, employees were using the 3-foot-by-3-foot dumbwaiter to serve food to a large party on the restaurant’s second floor. Mork said that as far as he knows, the mechanism was functioning properly that night.

Employees called 911 when they discovered her body trapped in the dumbwaiter, Mork said, and it took emergency crews at least 20 minutes to extricate her body.

"I don’t know how she got there. It was not an easy task to remove her," said Mork, who is the only police officer in Fountain City, a town of 842 people on the western edge of Wisconsin along the Mississippi River.

Mork said an autopsy would be performed to determine a cause of death and to figure out which injuries were sustained after Baures died. "Obviously, she had tremendous injuries" after being removed from the space, Mork said.

He said her death was likely an accident, but that the investigation is continuing.

"There have been no indications of a criminal act, there’s no indications of somebody playing around or horsing around," he said Wednesday.

Students and faculty at Winona State were mourning the death of Baures, a senior who was majoring in social work and had competed on the gymnastics team from 2011 to 2014. "She was a leader on the team and a talented gymnast," athletic director Eric Schoh said in a statement Tuesday. "This is a tremendous loss for our community."

Jason Puterbaugh, one of the restaurant’s owners, said Baures had worked as a part-time server and bartender for about two years. "She was a great, bubbly girl who lit up the room," he said Wednesday. "She had a wonderful future ahead of her. … It’s a very hard situation and we feel very sorry for her family and friends."

Fatal accidents in the workplace involving dumbwaiters are rare. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only three deaths involving dumbwaiters have occurred between 2003 and 2013.

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