Man rescued 'in good spirits' hours after he's stuck in dirt in Detroit trench collapse

Evan James Carter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Emergency crews worked for hours Monday night to rescue a man after he became trapped in a trench while digging to replace a sewer line on University Place in Detroit, police said.

The man, one of a three people who were digging up a sewer line on the 6300 block of University Place, was in the hole when the walls of the trench caved in about 3:30 p.m. He became trapped in about 7 feet of dirt that was up to his chest, police said.

He was removed "in good spirits" from the hole about 8:20 p.m. Monday, almost five hours after he first became trapped, and taken to St. John Hospital. He fractured a leg, the deputy fire commissioner said.

"He's talking and he doesn't appear to have any serious injuries," said Dave Fornell, Detroit deputy fire commissioner. "He might be suffering from hypothermia from being in the cold that long, but it doesn't appear that he has any serious injuries."

Fornell also said the man suffered a fractured leg.

The man, who is in his 50s, was coherent and held up "fairly well," Fornell said, while rescuers pushed to remove him from the trench as nighttime temperatures dipped in the upper 30s. Emergency crews provided oxygen, and heat was blown on him to keep the man warm during the laborious process of removing him. Rescuers first had to shore up the trench to prevent another cave-in, "a slow process," before removing him.

He had been talking to rescuers throughout the event, Fornell said.

The collapse happened while the man, who was not identified Monday; colleague Lataka Green, 27; and their boss were replacing a sewer line at a home on the city's east side.

“The wall collapsed as we were putting a sewer in,” said Green of Detroit. “I screamed his name, but he couldn’t move fast enough. We started to try to dig him out because he only had one arm up, and we dug his other arm out and tried to get dirt off his back so he could breathe."

She said nothing like this had happened to her on the job before.

Green said she kept telling him, “Everything’s going to be OK.”

Fornell said a vacuum truck was brought in to suck up dirt around the man.

More than 10 Detroit Fire Department vehicles responded to the scene. Members from a regional urban search and rescue team, including the Southfield Fire Department, aided in the rescue, Fornell said.