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Accident kills Ford millwright at Sterling Hts. plant

Longtime employee from Macomb Twp., who won award for money-saving ideas, crushed by machinery.

Jim Lynch and George Hunter / The Detroit News

STERLING HEIGHTS -- William "Bill" Neill was a devoted Ford Motor Co. employee.

The millwright spent four decades with the company at its Mound Road plant and in the early 1990s, his ideas helped save the plant money.

On Thursday, the 59-year-old Macomb Township resident was killed at the Sterling Heights plant when a piece of heavy equipment fell on him.

The accident happened about noon when two men were unloading machinery from a truck at the plant at 39000 Mound, Sterling Heights Police Lt. Michael Reese said.

Neil Wallyn of Sterling Heights, who worked side by side as an apprentice with Neill in 1993, recalled Neill as a "real professional."

"He was very smart and intelligent in terms of mechanical things," Wallyn said.

Wallyn, a plant committee bargaining representative for Local 228, the union that represented Neill, said the plant used to offer an annual award to the employee with the best suggestion for improving plant efficiency.

Wallyn said he remembered Neill winning the award at least once.

"As a person, he was just an outstanding individual," he said. "He was always cordial just a nice, nice man."

A union official said a younger employee with Neill at the time of the accident was not injured but taken to a local hospital as a precaution.

"The safety of our employees is our top priority," plant manager John Mantey said.

"It is a sad day for us at the Sterling Plant. On behalf of the plant and Ford Motor Co., I would like to express my sincerest condolences to Bill Neill's family. Bill was a 40-year-employee, and he will be missed."

Ford spokeswoman Anne Marie Gattari said the incident was being investigated by the plant and Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Officials with UAW Local 228 said Neill is survived by his wife and daughter. He worked as a millwright -- someone who maintains or constructs industrial machinery.

A woman who identified herself as a sister-in-law declined to comment when reached by telephone at Neill's Macomb Township home, but she called him a "good man and a good provider."

Joe DeSano, another Local 228 official and plant employee, recalled that Neill had begun looking into retirement in the past month by taking preparatory classes offered at the plant.

"It's an accident," DeSano said. "And it hurts. It hurts us all. "He was a good worker. The man could work with anyone."

The Sterling axle plant was spun off from Ford in 2000 and placed under the control of auto supplier Visteon Corp. The plant came back under Ford's control last fall in a deal designed to prevent Visteon from filing for bankruptcy.

The plant has 3,800 hourly workers, according to the union.

Gattari said that to the best of her knowledge, Thursday's accident was the first fatality at the plant.

According to the most recent data on the U.S. Department of Labor's OSHA's Web site, a 2004 inspection at the plant produced a single serious violation.

The report offered no additional information regarding the violation.
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