Vexing Questions, Few Answers

Contradictions Perplex Cave-in Victim's Family

March 22, 1992|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff writer

The unanswered questions are taking their toll on Fred and Betty Duckworth.

Six years ago, their 29-year-old daughter was stabbed in aritualistic killing -- her mutilated body discovered in Friendship Park.

State police are still searching for the killer of Brenda Lorraine Bloom.

A week ago, their only son, Aaron, known as "Skip," suffocated when a trench he was digging in Crownsville caved in, trapping him under tons of dirt 12 feet below the surface.

And now his parents, who live in Ferndale, have another set of questions to ask.

They don't believe the stories coming from the people Skip Duckworth was living with and working for. They don't believe the ditch was to connect a sewer line to Duckworth's trailer. They don't believe no onewitnessed the cave-in.

"That hole was nowhere near the trailer," said Duckworth's sister, Sarah Lucas. "It had to be for the house or the garage."

Duckworth's death has renewed bitter feelings about Bloom's slaying and why state police can't find a suspect -- who authorities believe may have been a serial killer.

"We just wonder if this is going to be dropped," Lucas said.

And now they are worried that state investigators won't be able to piece together what happened to their son, won't be able to prove the 32-year-old wanderer actually worked for the Crownsville family that owned the property where the accident occurred, won't be able to levy fines or criminal charges.

"First there were five people working in the hole," said Betty Duckworth, as she sifted through photographs taken of her son during Christmas two years ago. "Then there were three. Then Skip was workingby himself."

The story keeps changing, the family says, from newspaper article to newspaper article, from television broadcast to television broadcast.

Sunday afternoon, firefighters summoned to the scene thought Duckworth might have been alive. He was known to get angry when left alone on the job, was a heavy drinker and was known to wander off for a day at a time without telling anyone. But when policecouldn't find him, fire officials were sure Duckworth was dead.

By early Monday morning, however, rescue workers had dug down 12 feet without finding a trace of a body. They doubted Duckworth was in the trench when the sides collapsed.

Reports circulated that Duckworthwas wanted by police for failure to pay child support to his ex-wife, or that he was scared to return to the accident scene.

At 3:25 a.m., more than 12 hours after the unshored trench caved in, the speculation ended. Firefighters recovered Duckworth's body wedged against the trench wall, and the search for clues about why he was in the ditch began.

*

Skip Duckworth just couldn't settle down. Even whenhe was married 15 years ago and fathered a daughter, Glenda, he never really had a firm place to call home.

Until his death, he wandered around from place to place, doing odd jobs for construction companies and contractors.

"He was a good person," Lucas said. "He always went out digging for old bottles. He was good to everybody. We didn't see anyone who didn't like him. They might have gotten mad at him,but they always talked to him afterward."

Duckworth finally founda home with Arthur Myers, who operates a backhoe company and, with his wife, a dog kennel in the 700 block of Old Harold Harbor Road in Crownsville.

In exchange for work, Duckworth lived in a small green-and-white trailer in the back yard. That much everyone pretty much agrees on.

Roger Myers, Arthur's son and partner, said Duckworth wanted a working toilet in his trailer so he wouldn't have to bother the family.

Using company equipment, Myers said, Duckworth began to dig a 200-foot trench to connect the trailer to a sewer line. Myers said he was working alone.

But police, fire officials and the Duckworth family all dispute that claim.

Police say Arthur and Roger Myers were helping him dig the trench, took a coffee break and returnedto find the cave in. Fire officials say that when they arrived shortly past 3 p.m., two people were frantically trying to dig out the trench.

The dispute is important, especially to the Maryland Occupation and Safety Administration, which is investigating the accident andtrying to determine whether state worker-safety regulations apply.

Safety regulations governing the digging of trenches normally applyto operations in which there is an employer-employee relationship, MOSHA says.

If Duckworth was working on his own, there might not beanyone liable to fines. If he was digging with company workers, the situation gets tricky, since it may still have been a private venture.

"This (case) is very special," said Craig Lowry, chief of MOSH enforcement. "This was a preventable death, had the occupational standards been complied with."

But, Lowry said, "this may not be an occupational issue" because MOSH only has jurisdiction over employers.

He wouldn't comment on whether the agency has come to any conclusions in this case, but said a preliminary report could be concluded within 30 days.

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