Friday, July 13, 2001

Worker freed after 10-hour ordeal

By Stephenie Steitzer
Enquirer Contributor

        CRITTENDEN — A Pike County, Ky., man buried waist-deep in a narrow 9-foot-deep trench for more than 10 hours was lifted to safety early today.

[photo] Donnie Thacker is carried to an Air Care helicopter after being freed from the trench.
(Yuli Wu photo)
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        After an afternoon and evening of digging, rescuers erected a pulley system to lift out Donnie Thacker of Shelbiana, Ky. At 12:05 a.m., rescuers lowered a basket, worked the pulleys to bring the basket up, put the 27-year-old man on a stretcher and placed him on a waiting Air Care helicopter, which flew him to University Hospital Medical Center.

        Mr. Thacker, whose condition was not immediately available, was conscious when placed on the stretcher as onlookers applauded.

        Tim Koenig, assistant EMS chief in Erlanger, said Mr. Thacker was conscious and had “obvious fractures in the lower extremities.” His left arm was bandaged to hold an IV in place.

        “I could hear him indicate that he wanted to hug one rescuer,” Mr. Koenig said.

        At one point earlier in the day, Mr. Thacker grabbed a shovel and helped the rescuers, who were working 10-minute shifts suspended upside down, as a doctor kept an eye on his condition.

        He had been installing sewer pipe for a road project and was trapped when the unsecured trench collapsed about 2 p.m. He remained conscious as crews worked carefully to free him from the 3-foot-wide trench in front of Grant County Deposit Bank on Violet Road.

        But as time passed, concern grew. Dr. Joe Suyama, 29, of University Hospital, was on the Grant County scene and said he was concerned about potential crushing injuries. These injuries can cause significant muscle and tissue damage and circulatory problems.

[photo] Rescue workers shore up the trench during the rescue efforts
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        The IV bag, hanging from the construction equipment during digging, provided fluids to Mr. Thacker, who complained of some back and pelvic pain.

        One rescuer at a time was suspended upside down to dig with garden shovels at the clay, concrete, dirt and gravel that encased him.

        “It's a very tedious process of getting him out,” said Scott Lewis, clinical manager of TransCare, a Covington ambulance company.

        About 100 rescue workers were on the scene. Workers from the Northern Kentucky Sanitation District No. 1 periodically used a huge vacuum device to suck dirt from the trench.

        “It's very tight down there,” said rescuer Jennifer Lahner of Northern Kentucky Technical Rescue.

        A trackhoe bucket was lowered into the trench over the man's head to protect him from any further cave-ins or falling objects from the rescue crews' work.

        Mr. Thacker's family arrived from Eastern Kentucky about 11:30 p.m. and seemed concerned but calm.

        Mr. Koenig said that a “trench box,” which prevents cave-ins, was not being used. Mr. Koenig said that a trench box could have prevented the accident.

        Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials had been notified of the incident, Mr. Koenig said, but were not on the scene.

        Officials would not release the name of the company Mr. Thacker was working for.

        A foreman refused comment when asked.

        Cave-ins at excavation sites caused 46 fatalities nationwide in 1998, the latest year for which statistics are available. That was about 3.9 percent of the 1,171 construction site fatalities in 1998.


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