Worker rescued from collapsed trench

Man repairing sewer line caught by the leg as soil gave way in 8-foot hole

April 23, 2003|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

An avalanche of rust-colored earth partially buried a plumber at a work site in Linthicum yesterday afternoon, but rescue workers were able to stabilize the trench and pull him to safety by early evening.

Antonio Loverde was conscious throughout his three-hour ordeal and helped guide 47 emergency workers as they delicately dug him out of the 8-foot-deep hole on the front lawn of a home.

The 23-year-old and his partner, Chris Milan, 32, had been just a few hours from completing the all-day job of repairing a sewer line on Cheddington Road in Anne Arundel County.

They were standing at the perimeter of the car-sized trench, deciding their next move, when the dirt tumbled inward.

A mud-smeared Milan said he and Loverde both pitched forward.

"I was just one step quicker than him," Milan said, describing how he managed to escape the collapse.

But Loverde's entire right leg was twisted and pinned by the cold, moist dirt. He cried out that his leg hurt.

Milan grabbed a shovel and started to dig him out, but when Loverde complained about trouble breathing, property owner Jennifer Hodges, home with her three young children and another toddler, called 911.

Coincidentally, the collapse team for the Anne Arundel County Fire Department was already assembled in Millersville for a training exercise when the call came in.

Wearing bright blue jumpsuits and hard hats, the 15 or so team members used wooden boards to construct a stable framework and got to work.

They secured six metal beams across the trench's width and pumped in warm air to stave off hypothermia.

Loverde was hooked up to an IV and given oxygen and water. His brother and fiancee watched nervously from across the street. Division Chief John M. Scholz gave them periodic updates.

In collapses, firefighters worry most about a condition called crush syndrome, in which toxins build up in a trapped limb. Once the limb is freed, the toxins can spread quickly through the body.

Workers crawled into the trench to dig Loverde out, and at 4 p.m., Scholz announced the workers were "down to his ankle."

When firefighters lifted him from the hole at 4:51 p.m., a crowd of neighbors and onlookers, including at least two other Linthicum Plumbing and Drain Cleaning workers, erupted in cheers.

An ambulance rushed Loverde to Maryland Shock Trauma Center. His condition was not immediately available.

The Hodges family wasn't able to return to their home last night. With their sewer line in disrepair, they decided to stay at a relative's home in Catonsville.

Jeff Hodges, 28, feared the worst when he returned home at 3 p.m. yesterday.

"There were so many firetrucks here, I figured the house blew up," he said. The homeowner said he was more dismayed than worried when he learned that a sewer worker had become trapped.

"We don't understand how this could happen," he said. "We're upset. It was supposed to be a very basic repair."

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