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— Police officers had Leland Rumph by the hand, talking to him to keep him calm as they worked to free him from a trench that had collapsed around him Wednesday.

They had freed him up to his arms and head and were giving him oxygen when the trench collapsed again, this time with deadly consequences.

The debris from the hole, about 15 feet deep and being dug to access a sewer line while preparing a lot at 20162 Fairway Drive near Oxford, completely buried him, taking another officer down as well. Rumph died before workers could pull him to safety.

Chief Shadd Whitehead of the Livonia Fire Department and Western Wayne County Urban Search and Rescue team, which aided the rescue, said the primary concern after the second collapse was keeping the emergency crews safe as they tried to retrieve the body.

"A preliminary look shows this was a very dangerous trench to be in and there should have been protection in the trench. I certainly didn't see any of that," said Whitehead.

Al Fincham, city administrator and acting director of Grosse Pointe Woods Public Safety, said "the side walls sheared off and collapsed."

Rumph, 59, who owned the Sterling Heights construction company, Rumph Construction Inc., was digging a hole to the sewer line on the empty lot. A Grosse Pointe Woods police officer in his mid-30s suffered injuries to his back and leg. He was hospitalized in good condition, said Fincham.

"Whether (the trench) was done properly will have to be determined after there is an investigation," a shaken and mud-covered Fincham said at the scene Wednesday afternoon. "There are things I would have liked to see in place that weren't there."

It was the first day of construction at the site. The crew was using a backhoe to dig about 20 feet down to reach a sewer line.

Police received a call about the trench collapse around 12:05 p.m. and the first officers were on the scene at 12:06 p.m. They found Rumph completely buried in the trench, said Fincham.

Officers got into the hole and started calling for him. Rumph's response was muffled because he was buried.

Fincham said officers burrowed about 15 feet into the trench and dug out Rumph's head and part of his chest and gave him oxygen. They had freed his arms and an officer was holding his hand, trying to keep him calm, when a secondary collapse occurred, injuring the officer and burying Rumph again.

Rescuers had not recovered his body by Wednesday night.

lrazzaq@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2127

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