Plumber in serious condition after ordeal After ditch collapse, man is recovering in Shock-Trauma unit.

November 08, 1991|By Richard Irwin | Richard Irwin,Evening Sun Staff Patrick Ercolano contributed to this story.

A Timonium plumber, trapped in a cave-in for eight hour when an excavation ditch outside a Dundalk home collapsed, was listed in serious but stable condition today at the Shock-Trauma Unit in Baltimore.

Jere David Kates, 28, of the first block of Daria Court, gave a thumbs-up sign as he was lifted yesterday from what could have been his grave.

Kates' left leg was injured when tons of earth caved in on him about 9:15 a.m. as he worked at the bottom of a 9-foot ditch outside a house in the 900 block of Dalton Road.

He also had possible internal injuries.

Dr. Charles E. Wiles, the attending traumatologist at Shock-Trauma when Kates was brought in, said at a briefing today, "We're delighted with his progress so far. He has no major systemic problems, but his left lower leg will require exploratory surgery."

The surgery is set for tomorrow, Wiles said.

"The bones of the left leg are intact, but the problem here is that the muscles, nerves and circulation in the leg have been damaged," the doctor said.

As a result, Kates is receiving treatment in the oxygen-rich hyperbaric chamber. Doctors have found from past cases that hyperbaric treatments tend to speed the healing of circulation problems, Wiles said.

The doctor also said he saw Kates today and reported he was feeling "not joyful, but happy to be here."

"He was very happy for the great care he received in the field," Wiles said.

A hospital spokesman said Kates would remain in intensive care for a few days.

But, Wiles added, "If I told you how long he will be in the hospital after that, it would only be a guess on my part at this point."

Jean Kates, the victim's mother, arrived not long after the cave-in and talked to her son by portable telephone.

Kates and two other employees of Howard N. Carter & Son, a plumbing company in Edgemere, were attempting to find the source of a sewage backup at the house of Thomas and Barbara Cunningham when the trench gave way without warning.

When the walls of the ditch collapsed, Kates was buried for several minutes before co-worker Stanley Rogers jumped down and uncovered Kates' face so he could breathe.

Barbara Cunningham said she was sitting in her living room when she heard someone yell.

After finding out what the problem was, Cunningham dialed 911 and reported that a man was trapped.

Rogers and another worker continued to scrape dirt away from Kates' face with their hands.

Within minutes, rescue units from the Baltimore County Fire Department were at the scene.

Humidified oxygen was administered to Kates as rescuers removed dirt from his body and shored up the trench with wooden planks.

"He never lost consciousness and was speaking to his rescuers throughout the ordeal," said a Baltimore County police officer.

The walls of the trench were not shored up while it was being dug, said a Fire Department spokesman. The Maryland Occupational Safety and Health agency is investigating.

James Lowry, of MOSH, said state law requires that trenches be shored up after the excavation reaches a depth of 5 feet.

An employee of the plumbing company said shoring-up was taking place when the accident occurred.

As rescue efforts continued and Kates' condition was being monitored, units from the Montgomery County Collapse-Rescue Team in Rockville, specialists in cave-in rescues and recoveries, arrived.

At the ends of the trench, they pressed long aluminum tubes with flat face-plates, which can extend to various lengths when filled with compressed air and can exert great force, against the wooden planking to prevent another cave-in.

They kept digging until they were able to place a sling around Kates' exposed upper body.

Using garden trowels and buckets, they removed dirt from around Kates. They freed him from the trench about 5:15 p.m.

With a canvas sling wrapped around his body and attached to a crane, Kates, eyes covered by protective goggles, was lifted from the ditch amid cheers from on-lookers.

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