2 men who died in St. Paul trench collapse are remembered
Jeff Jeanetta, 66, and Bob Brandtjen, 63, died in a trench collapse at a construction site in St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood on Friday.
ST. PAUL -- Jeff Jeanetta was supposed to go up north to spend Father’s Day with his family — they were going to fish and then have a fish fry. But instead his family was left with memories of gatherings from past years.
Jeanetta, 66, and Bob Brandtjen, 63, died in a trench collapse at a construction site in St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood on Friday.
Their families are remembering them as proud fathers and hard workers, and community members are rallying around their relatives.
People are especially looking after Brandtjen’s youngest child, Billy, who recently graduated from St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights and lived with his father in Highland Park.
Billy’s friends started a fundraiser and more than $100,000 had been raised for Bob Brandtjen’s funeral, along with Billy’s educational and living expenses, as of Monday night.
The Brandtjen family said they’re grateful for the community’s generosity, and they’re also encouraging people to support Jeanetta’s family.
As of Monday evening, a GoFundMe for Jeanetta’s funeral and his family’s living expenses stood at just over $5,000.
The cause of the trench collapse is under investigation.
“I hope in the end we do have an understanding of what actually happened,” said Jason Jeanetta, a son of Jeff’s, on Monday.
Brandtjen was the owner of R.H. Brandtjen & Co. and worked on water and sewer lines.
“He died doing what he loves,” said Pete Treacy, a family friend.
Jeanetta had “been doing excavating and sewer and water work pretty much his whole life,” Jason Jeanetta said.
Brandtjen and Jeanetta worked together years ago and Brandtjen offered him a job recently, according to his son.
The men appeared to be working on water or sewer connections for an apartment building that’s under construction at Mount Curve Boulevard and Pinehurst Avenue, according to the St. Paul Fire department.
Loved St. Paul, proud of his kids
Brandtjen was a lifelong St. Paul resident, Treacy said.
“He’s always loved St. Paul — he knew every street, he had it memorized,” Treacy said.
He was a father of four, one of whom died as a child.
Brandtjen’s and Treacy’s sons both played football and sang in the choir at St. Thomas Academy. Brandtjen “was incredibly supportive, attending every one of his football games and choir concerts,” Billy’s friends wrote on GoFundMe.
“Now, things are uncertain for Billy, both in his financial and day-to-day aspects of life,” the message continued. Billy is heading to the University of Minnesota in the fall to study mechanical or civil engineering.
Two of Brandtjen’s children told Treacy that, as he raised them, “he would do anything to help them, but also he equipped them with a way of looking at life — that even in the darkness, God is taking care of them.”
‘Jack of all trades’
Jeanetta, who was an Army veteran, spent most of his life as a North St. Paul resident. He is survived by six children and many grandchildren.
“He had the biggest heart, he was calm, patient, a great listener, a good teacher,” Jason Jeanetta said. “He was a jack of all trades.”
He was always working on projects and loved to build things. Last year for Father’s Day, he went to his son’s cabin and put together a fire pit.
“Eighteen-hundred pounds of bricks and 1,000 pounds of sand and we put that together the day before Father’s Day, and we had a great time — the kids got to help, too,” Jason Jeanetta said. “He was always going out of his way to help somebody.”
12-hour recovery effort
Firefighters who responded to the trench collapse on Friday afternoon started with a rescue effort, but the operation switched to a recovery because victims of trench collapses usually die within minutes, Deputy Fire Chief Roy Mokosso has said.
When Jason Jeanetta found out what happened, he went to the area and was allowed to watch the recovery effort from about 10 feet away.
“I wanted to make sure that they got my dad out of there,” he said.
It took about six hours for firefighters to recover Jeff Jeanetta’s body and another six hours for crews to remove Brandtjen’s body from the trench early Saturday.
Minnesota OSHA is investigating.
“There is no set timeframe for an investigation,” said James Honerman, Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry communications director. “MNOSHA investigates to determine the cause of such accidents and whether existing OSHA standards were violated to help avoid a recurrence of similar accidents.”
A trench box, which is used to protect workers in the event of a collapse, was next to the site and not in the trench at the time, Mokosso said.
How to help
The fundraiser for Jeff Jeanetta’s funeral and to support his family can be found at gofundme.com/f/trench-collapse .
The GoFundMe for Bob Brandtjen’s funeral and to assist his son is at gofundme.com/f/billy-brandtjen-cadet-fund .
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