Rescuers free man trapped in ditch for 6 hours

April 28, 1994|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Sun Staff Writer

A worker buried to his waist by dirt in a collapsing ditch was rescued yesterday evening after a six-hour ordeal -- hungry and a little numb, but with a smile on his face for the emergency crews that saved him.

Gabriel Kierson, 21, was one of five employees of Baywood Design Builders assigned to a waterproofing job at a home in the Woodmark development in West Friendship.

They had dug a trench about 12 feet deep and nearly 30 feet long along a leaky side wall of the house on Mount Albert Road.

But Howard County Fire and Rescue officials said the workers had failed to shore up the sides before the collapse occurred about 11:55 a.m.

Mr. Kierson had been left alone in the ditch and was trying to climb out for a lunch break when his foot got stuck in the sand at the bottom and at least 2 tons of dirt fell into the hole, trapping him.

"We jumped in and started digging him out, but the dirt kept falling," said Joe Kirsch, a Baywood carpenter and work crew member. While three workers tried to help Mr. Kierson, the other called 911.

"Fire and rescue told us to get out," Mr. Kirsch said, "else we'd have been five in instead of one."

Nearly 60 rescue workers from Howard, Carroll, Baltimore and Montgomery counties took part in the methodical task of freeing Mr. Kierson -- not only removing the dirt but attending to the medical needs and morale of the trapped worker.

Early in the day, he could be heard crying out, "Oh God, get me out of here!" He was urged to remain calm and still.

Karen Bathras, a Howard paramedic, talked to Mr. Kierson throughout the afternoon.

An oxygen mask was lowered to Mr. Kierson, and eventually an intravenous tube was run into his arm to drip glucose and fluid into his body to prevent dehydration.

About 2 p.m., the rescue team mounted a large red tarp over the ditch -- at first providing shade, and then shelter from the brief but heavy rain that fell in a thunderstorm about an hour later.

A Howard County firefighter, Dave Couvillion, was slightly injured as he worked near the trench when he slipped and he was struck in the ribs by a piece of wood. He was released after treatment at Howard County General Hospital.

As the dirt around and under Mr. Kierson was slowly shoveled away, the rescuers put a jacket around his torso. A rope, draped over a 24-foot ladder leaning against the side of the house, was attached to the jacket to help support Mr. Kierson.

Rescuers above the ditch kept calling down to Mr. Kierson as the work progressed, asking how he was doing.

"I'm hungry!" he shouted, shortly before he was pulled free of the ditch at 6:05 p.m.

By then, authorities had notified relatives of the accident. His girlfriend, mother and grandfather were standing nearby as he was freed and placed, smiling, on a stretcher for an ambulance ride to a field at the Glenelg Country School.

A state police Medevac helicopter was waiting there to take him to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.

Authorities said Mr. Kierson was in serious condition. It was not known whether his lower extremities were permanently damaged by the cold dirt and pressure of being buried all afternoon.

Howard Fire Battalion Chief Don Howell said it appeared the workers had failed to shore up the trench -- a precaution he said was needed when digging 3 feet or deeper -- and should have dug at a slant rather than straight down.

The official investigation was begun at the scene by representatives of the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health agency, which can impose fines for violations of state regulations at a work site.

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