University groundskeeper killed by mower fire

A longtime Millersville (PA) University groundskeeper died May 18 after being injured in a fire on campus, university President John Anderson said in an email to faculty, staff and students today.

He wrote that Michael L. Keefer, 60, “was on a riding lawn mower near Biemesderfer Stadium when the fire occurred.” He was rushed to Lancaster General Hospital and then transported to Lehigh Valley Hospital, where he died about 8 p.m. Wednesday.

The Lehigh County Coroner’s office said Thursday afternoon that Keefer’s cause of death was thermal injuries and the manner of death was deemed an accident, although the investigation is continuing. Because Keefer died in Lehigh County, the autopsy was performed there.

Keefer was a groundskeeper for Millersville since 1990, according to the university. Anderson said counseling is available to help employees through this difficult time.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, two sons and their family,” he wrote.

“What we know is that Mike was mowing, there was a fire involving the mower and Mike was severely injured. At this point we don’t know what started the fire,” university spokeswoman Janet Kacskos said in an email.

She said employees are “in a state of shock,” and that she believes Keefer’s is the first employee death ever on campus.

The fire happened Wednesday afternoon, prompting the university to send a campus alert asking people to avoid the area at 2:39 p.m., according to Kacskos. She said there was no damage to any structures.


Patrick Weidinger, Millersville’s director of safety & environmental health, will head up the university’s investigation into the cause of the accident. Kacskos said a state police fire marshal will also do an investigation.

Kacskos said she did not hear any reports of an explosion or of witnesses to the incident.

Dave Olah, area director for the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, said it investigates workplace deaths for federal and private employees but, because Millersville is a state institution, will not be involved in this one.