The three workers buried Tuesday when a trench collapsed in Northwest Boise appear to have been digging a path for a sewer line that would someday connect to four new homes on the southeast corner of Hill Road and Gary Lane.
Bert Smith Jr., 36, and Ernesto Saucedo-Zapata, 26, both died of asphyxia due to compression from the incident, the Ada County Coroner’s Office announced around 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. Smith was from Caldwell. Saucedo-Zapata was from Nampa.
A third worker was transported to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise after the trench collapse. That worker’s name and condition are unknown, but emergency workers said he was conscious and talking when he was rescued. His injuries were described as not life-threatening.
“I’m just so sad for the familes,” said Connie Otis, who lives at the intersection at North Hill Road Parkway and Gary, where the incident happened. “Nothing like this has happened around here before, so it’s hard to see and hear about.”
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Hard Rock Construction, a Meridian excavation company that’s been in existence since 2001, was in charge of the digging project, according to city of Boise and Ada County Highway District records. The excavation was scheduled to start Tuesday and wrap up Friday. The trench collapse was reported at 5:35 p.m.
City records also list Dan French of French Homes Inc., an 11-year-old company based in Nampa, as the applicant for a subdivision of a 0.67-acre tract at Hill and Gary into four residential lots. The same company is the owner of the land, according to county records.
French did not respond to a phone message from the Idaho Statesman on Wednesday. Hard Rock owner David Callister and Rob Haddock, a company director, did not respond to email and phone messages.
It’s unclear what caused the trench to collapse Tuesday or whether a trench box — a metal brace with two walls held apart by spreaders — or other support was in place to protect the workers.
Ada County Highway District spokesman Craig Quintana said its permit allowing Hard Rock to work in the roadway does not cover safety practices. Boise spokesman Mike Journee said all city agencies have ceded the investigation of Tuesday’s incident to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
“Job safety, including trench safety, shall be the responsibility of the contractor/plumber who shall adhere to (state standards) and current OSHA standards,” the city’s sewer tap permit form reads.
Area OSHA Director Dave Kearns wouldn’t talk specifically about Wednesday’s incident since it’s part of an ongoing investigation. But he said trench cave-ins usually are caused by a lapse in safety protocol.
“One of the things that I’ve learned from doing the past 20 years is that most of these things are preventable,” Kearns said. “That should never happen just so somebody can earn a paycheck.”
He said any trench more than 5 feet deep is required to have cave-in protection. Several types of protection are available, he said, but in local projects involving cutting into a roadway, a trench box is the most common approach.
The trench that collapsed Tuesday was reportedly 9 feet deep.
The workers who were caught in the cave-in had been working in the trench the day before, Otis said. They talked to her to make sure their equipment wouldn’t get in the way of her vehicle, she said.
“The group was all really nice,” she said.
Initial reports indicated that only one of the three men in the trench was visible after the collapse. The one man pulled free was out by 6 p.m., according to scanner traffic. Efforts to rescue the other two soon turned to recovery, and around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday the Boise Fire Department confirmed that two were dead.
Boise police, fire and paramedic crews responded to the scene, along with the Ada County Highway District and Trauma Intervention Program, with heavy equipment and rescue gear. Crews worked methodically to reach the buried workers while shoring up the sides of the trench to prevent further collapse.
By about 9:30 p.m., both bodies had been recovered and turned over to the Ada County Coroner’s Office, officials said.
Police moved spectators and media away from the accident scene Tuesday evening as rescue and recovery crews worked. The intersection of Hill Road and Gary Lane closed during the recovery effort, along with other sections of roadway in the area.
Otis and neighbor Chad Skinner, both familiar with construction, said it was hard to understand how the collapse happened if all the standard safety precautions were in place.
“The ground here is so sandy,” Otis said. “It doesn’t take much.”
OSHA investigations of workplace fatalities generally take several months, Kearns said.
Kristin Rodine contributed.
Fatalities in trenches a rarity
There have been two work-related cave-in fatalities reported to OSHA and investigated in Idaho since 2005.
▪ In 2009 a worker died in a Pocatello project led by Mountain Home-based Bowman’s Inc. While the worker was connecting two sections of 14-foot-long pipes, the worker stepped out from under a protective trench barrier. He pushed the pipes together by kicking them and the trench caved in, killing him. The report showed OSHA fined the company $20,000 for four violations.
▪ In 2005 a worker died on a Moscow trench project led by Tucker Excavation and Pipeline. The worker was laying pipe when the trench caved in and killed the worker. OSHA fined the company $18,700 for five violations.
Idaho safety code provides the following guidelines for protecting workers from loose rock or soil:
▪ Adequate protection shall be provided to protect employees from loose rock or soil that could pose a hazard by falling or rolling from an excavation face. Such protection shall consist of scaling to remove loose material; installation of protective barricades at intervals as necessary on the face to stop and contain falling material; or other means that provide equivalent protection.
▪ Employees shall be protected from excavated or other materials or equipment that could pose a hazard by falling or rolling into excavations. Protection shall be provided by placing and keeping such materials or equipment at least two feet from the edge of excavations, or by the use of retaining devices that are sufficient to prevent materials or equipment from falling or rolling into excavations, or by a combination of both if necessary.
▪ Employees on excavations four feet or deeper shall wear head protection.
Idaho trench-related injuries and deaths
injured when struck
by gutter in trench
Pipe layer buried
and killed by
and Septic Inc.
after trench cave-in
killed in trench
Pipe layer killed
when caught by track-hoe
bucket in trench
Excavation & Pipeline
killed in trench
Welder’s helper killed
by pipes falling
onto him in trench
of Mountain Home
killed by trench