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Teen accidentally hanged while trying to make hayride scary

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published October 22, 2001

SPARTA (AP) The state of Michigan generally does not inspect or certify haunted attractions, a state official said following the accidental hanging death of a teen-ager working at a haunted hayride.

Caleb Rebh, 14, of Sparta Township in Kent County died Saturday night at a Sparta horse farm that offers Halloween-themed hayrides. People who saw him desperately struggling with a noose around his neck thought he was acting, his mother said Monday.

The sheriff"s department is investigating the death as an accident, Capt. Dan Krajewski said yesterday. The county medical examiner has ruled that asphyxiation was the cause of death.

The Michigan Department of Consumer and Industry Services has opened an investigation to see if youth-employment standards were being met, said spokeswoman Maura Campbell. The department"s report probably will take at least a month.

"It may be that it will just turn out to be a horrible tragedy," Campbell said.

The only time the department would inspect a haunted attraction would be if there were an amusement ride involved, she said.

A telephone message seeking comment was left yesterday at Alpine Ridge Farms for co-owners Thomas and Rebecca Bradley.

Rebecca Bradley told The Grand Rapids Press that while she and her husband were devastated by the death, the accident did not mean the hayride is unsafe.

The event will go on as planned next weekend and the first weekend in November, with proceeds on Friday benefitting the victim"s family, she told the newspaper.

Kathy Rebh, a teacher and counselor at Englishville High School in the Sparta school system, said a friend of her son who works at Alpine Ridge Farms had recently called Caleb to say there could be a hayride job for him at the horse farm.

"It was something that was right up his alley because he loves Halloween and running around in the dark," she said. "Trying to scare people was the perfect job for Caleb."

Kathy Rebh said she took her son over to Alpine Ridge on Saturday and spoke with Thomas Bradley about a possible job. Thomas Bradley told her that he had all the workers he needed that night and to check back on Sunday, she said.

"I went back and told Caleb that, and he said, "Well, can I just stay and hang around?" He said, "I"ll work for free. I don"t have to be paid,"" his mother said. "I mean, he wanted to do this."

Caleb stayed and later telephoned her twice: to say he had been allowed to take part and to tell her that he wanted to be scarier to passers-by.

"When the wagon went by, he didn"t know what to do, so he just turned and looked at it and said boo," she said.

He started the evening by working at a post featuring a coffin, then switched with another worker who had been at a station with a skeleton hanging from a noose tied to a small tree, she said.

Caleb spoke with another teen about replacing the skeleton with himself, Kathy Rebh said.

As he let go of the rope with the noose around his neck, the tree whipped back and pulled the rope taut, choking him as his feet remained on the ground, his mother said.

When he started scrambling to get the tightening noose off his neck, fellow workers and hayride participants seemed to think he was acting, she said.

"That"s why we know he didn"t try to hurt himself," she said. "He thought he was safe because he was on the ground."

Hayride employees and participants tried to resuscitate Caleb, but he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Caleb was active in his church youth group and enjoyed reading, writing and listening to music, his mother said.

"He loved people and he had a huge heart," Kathy Rebh said.

"He loved his friends but he would also go into our family gatherings and sit down and play games with older people. He loved to talk to people."

She said she and her husband do not understand why those who saw their son struggling with the noose did not realize sooner he was in trouble.

"We just can"t make any sense out of why no one would go over there and try to help him," she said.