Mining inspector dies while driving

The truck of Ontonagon County Mining Inspector Robert Niemela is shown pulled over Monday on Old Victoria Road in Ontonagon County. (Photo by Skip Schulz, for the Houghton Daily Mining Gazette)

ONTONAGON — Ontonagon County Mining Inspector Robert Niemela died Monday evening of apparent natural causes while driving outside of Rockland, which is about 12 miles southeast of Ontonagon.

Niemela was found outside his vehicle about 3 miles from Rockland on Old Victoria Road at about 7 p.m.

A motorist heading west on Old Victoria Road saw Niemela get out of his truck, then stoop over.

When the motorist turned around to offer assistance, Niemela had already stopped breathing.

Sonco Ambulance and emergency responders from Aspirus were called to the scene. Niemela was pronounced dead at the scene.

Authorities at the scene told the Mining Gazette it appears Niemela died of natural causes.

Niemela was heading east on Old Victoria Road. His truck was pulled over on the shoulder of the road.

The truck was found a little more than a mile from the Ontonagon River Bridge.

Niemela was elected Ontonagon County mining inspector through a write-in campaign last November.

He was the owner of New Dimensions Technologies, a company that had developed a rock crusher.

Niemela was also the Ontonagon County Republican Party Chairman.

Niemela was working closely with Highland Copper in its efforts to bring copper mining back to the western Upper Peninsula.

Last week Niemela told the Gazette how appreciative he was when the Ontonagon County Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors recently voted unanimously to support Highland Copper’s exploratory drilling.

“Our condolences goes out to Bob, his family and his friends,” said Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet, congressman for Michigan’s 1st District.