Boise & Garden City

Nampa, Caldwell men die in Boise trench collapse

Bert Smith Jr., 36, and Ernesto Saucedo-Zapata, 26, both died of mechanical asphyxia due to compression, the Ada County Coroner’s Office said around 1:30 p.m. Wednesday

Smith was from Caldwell. Saucedo-Zapata was from Nampa.

Both died in a trench on North Gary Lane in Boise, buried after a collapse Tuesday evening.

One other worker at the site was rescued and survived. By Wednesday morning, the trench near the corner of North Hill Road Parkway had been filled in.

“I’m just so sad for the familes. Nothing like this has happened around here before, so it’s hard to see and hear about,” said Connie Otis, who lives on the intersection at North Hill Road Parkway and Gary, where the incident happened.

The people who got stuck had been working in the trench the day before, and had talked to Otis to make sure their equipment wouldn’t get in the way of her vehicle, she said.

“The group was all really nice,” she said.

The workers had been in the 9-foot deep trench near the corner of North Hill Road Parkway and Gary Lane when the accident was reported at 5:35 p.m., the fire department reports. Three people were in the trench when the collapse occurred, but initial reports indicated only one of the three was visible. The others were buried.

One man was pulled free about 6 p.m., reportedly conscious and talking, according to scanner traffic. That person was transported to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center with injuries described as not life-threatening. No information about his condition was available late Tuesday.

Efforts to rescue the other two soon turned to recovery, and around 7:30 p.m. the 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.

To Otis, and another neighbor, both familiar with construction, 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.”

One of the few protective measures workers can use is referred to as “shielding,” which holds up trench walls with trench boxes or other support mechanisms, according to Dave Kearns, area director for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Otis said it was hard to imagine how a cave-in would have happened if workers were using a trench box.

Chad Skinner, another neighbor, echoed Otis’ query about the trench box. He said he’s worked construction.

“I’m just curious if that was in place,” Skinner said.

Though Kearns couldn’t talk specifically about Wednesday’s incident since it’s part of an ongoing investigation, he said trench cave-ins are usually 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.”

An OSHA representative was called to the scene Wednesday, and the federal agency will investigate the workplace fatalities. Boise police also were investigating, but a department spokesman said Wednesday the investigation was solely in the hands of OSHA.

No further details were immediately available about what happened or what company the three worked for.

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.

Kristin Rodine: 208-377-6447

Erin Fenner: 208-377-6207, @erinfenner

Audrey Dutton contributed to this report.

Fatalities due to collapsing trenches are rare in Idaho

There have only been two work-related trench cave-in fatalities reported to OSHA and investigated since 2005.

▪  In 2009 a worker died in a Mountain Home project led by 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.

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