2 workers killed in Villa Julie accident

Low oxygen in underground space may have caused victims to lose consciousness

August 17, 2006|By LAURA BARNHARDT | LAURA BARNHARDT,SUN REPORTER

Two construction workers died yesterday after losing consciousness from an apparent lack of oxygen in a sewer manhole - one after jumping in to rescue the other at a construction site on Villa Julie College's Owings Mills campus.

The worker who first went underground - to retrieve a dropped tool - was pulled out by firefighters, but died at a hospital, a Fire Department offical said. The would-be rescuer was dead at the scene.

The men, who were not identified because police were trying to notify relatives, had been pouring concrete in the 10900 block of Boulevard Circle, said Elise Armacost, a Fire Department spokeswoman.

One of the men dropped a trowel down a nearby sewer manhole and jumped into the 15-foot-deep space to retrieve it, Armacost said.

He immediately lost consciousness, possibly because of a low level of oxygen. His co-worker called 911 and also dropped into the confined space in a rescue attempt, Armacost said. The second worker also lost consciousness and was dead when firefighters arrived at 5:48 p.m., about five minutes after the 911 call was received, Armacost said.

The first worker died last night at Northwest Hospital Center.

A man who answered the phone at M.T. Laney Co., an Eldersburg firm that employed the men, said he could not comment about the incident and said that the president and vice president of the company had gone to the scene.

It took firefighters about 20 minutes to pull the men from the hole, in part because they must follow specific guidelines when working in underground, confined spaces, Armacost said.

"When you go below ground, there is a depletion of oxygen. And it can be deadly," Armacost said. "That's why there are strict rules about working below ground."

Sun reporter Richard Irwin contributed to this article.

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