Man’s body recovered from collapsed trench

Ursula Watson and Lauren Abdel-Razzaq
The Detroit News

Grosse Pointe Woods — Rescue teams have recovered the body of a man who was buried in a collapsed trench.

Police say the body of subcontractor Leland Rumph, 59, who died Wednesday after debris from a hole 15 feet deep buried him alive, had been extracted Friday morning.

Rumph, who owned the Sterling Heights construction company Rumph Construction Inc., was digging a hole Wednesday to the sewer line on an empty lot at 20162 Fairway near Oxford. 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.

Meanwhile, a city official says the work that led up to the tragic event was not done properly.

Joseph Ahee, director of Grosse Pointe Woods Department of Public Works, said Thursday rain and improper shoring caused the collapse.

“It is clay down there, but what complicated things was the rain that we had the day before that made the ground unstable; it is saturated,” he said. “There were pockets of water that penetrates the ground and leaves little cracks, and these cracks can open up without you ever seeing them, especially if they are under the roadway and that is what continues to be one of the problems.”

Ahee said when excavating, Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules and regulations must be followed. A hole has to be wide enough to accommodate the proper slope and grade of soil and there must be proper shoring, such as plywood or metal on the sides or a trench box.

“There was none of that there,” Ahee said.

Tanya Baker, a spokesperson with MIOSHA, said Thursday, “MIOSHA has no inspection history for Rumph Construction and cannot provide any information or findings of the investigation until it is complete. This may take several weeks or months to complete.”

Baker said excavation cave-ins are one of the leading causes of death and serious injury in the construction industry.

MIOSHA records reveal there have been five fatal accidents in construction cave-in incidents in Michigan over the past five years. Deaths have occurred when workers were repairing broken water mains and replacing or repairing existing sewer lines, and during the installation of a 20,000-gallon water tank, according to state records since January 2009.

Ahee said the contractor did pull a permit to tap into the sewer line. Also, the DPW met with the builder, informing them the concrete sewer is 60 inches in diameter and 22 feet to the bottom of the inside of the pipe.

The builder was required to post a $10,000 performance bond because part of a road would be removed, which would require it be shut down, Ahee said.

Since it wasn’t a city job, the contractor was required to contact public works when it was ready to make a connection to the sewer. Then an inspector would have gone to the site.

The rescue teams did all the proper shoring of the hole and cross-bracing to ensure no one else is injured, said Al Fincham, city administrator and acting director of Grosse Pointe Woods Public Safety, on Thursday.

“The victim’s head and arm were exposed and they were making what they thought was good progress when they had another collapse,” said Fincham, describing Wednesday’s events.

Fincham said Rumph was reburied and was down between about 16 to 18 feet.

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

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 an officer and burying Rumph again.

The Grosse Pointe Woods police officer, in his mid-30s, suffered injuries to his back and leg during the initial rescue attempt. He was hospitalized and released, but Fincham said the officer must return for treatment because of severe swelling and fluid on the knee.

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