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State probes deaths of workers in Durham manhole

Posted June 8, 2011

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— State inspectors were investigating Wednesday how two workers for a Burlington company became trapped in a manhole in Durham Tuesday evening and died.

Jesus Martinez Benitez, 32, of Clayton, and Luis Castaneda Gomez, 34, of Durham, were working for Triangle Grading and Paving when they became trapped in a manhole at U.S. Highway 70, near Leesville Road, shortly before 6 p.m., authorities said.

Allen McNeely, deputy director of the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health, said that one of the men went down the manhole and suffocated when he was deprived of oxygen. The other man saw his co-worker was in trouble and went into the hole to rescue him and also suffocated, McNeely said.

"What you've got down in the bottom (of the hole) is any number of things – whatever is connected to that manhole, could be methane gas or could be any number of things – that would cause oxygen deprivation," McNeely said.

The Bethesda Volunteer Fire Department and the Durham County Hazmat Team tested the area before sending someone down into the manhole to extract the bodies and found that oxygen levels were too low to sustain life, said Capt. Don Ladd of the Durham County Sheriff's Office.

A passerby who called 911 to report the incident yelled down into the manhole at least twice but received no response from the men.

"I'm looking down in the hole, and these two guys are completely out," the caller told the 911 dispatcher.

The manhole led to an underground access point for utilities, according to Ladd, who described the space inside as a 4- by 6-foot concrete bunker about 10 to 12 feet below the surface.

Ladd said it was unclear what the men were doing in the manhole, although they might have been trying to remove a piece of equipment or open a valve.

Manhole deaths State probes deaths of workers in Durham manhole

Durham is adding water lines along U.S. 70 in the area, officials said.

Eight workplace health and safety complaints have been filed against Triangle Grading and Paving in the past 14 years, according to U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration records. One worker was killed in 1997 when a hydraulic hose ruptured and caused the bulldozer he was operating to catch fire, records show.

The company was fined $40,000 last year for serious and willful safety violations for exposing employees to hazards while working in an 8-foot-deep trench at Fort Bragg, records show.

"An employer is responsible for making sure confined spaces are monitored, so you know what's going on down there," McNeely said. "That's some of the things we'll be checking on, that and training the individuals, making sure they knew what they were working on."

Triangle Grading and Paving officials issued a statement Wednesday expressing sorrow at the men's deaths and stating that the firm is dedicated to ensuring worker safety and is cooperating in the state investigation.

"We take great pride in our safety and education programs at Triangle. We do everything in our power to prevent injuries and deaths in a dangerous occupation," the statement said.



82 Comments

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  • ncrealtor5 Jun 9, 2011

    Just curious, but in what way does an individual's race, country of origin, or citizenship status make them any less of a human being? Seriously, I'd love to hear educated, factual justification, in fact, I'd pay for it! And please, could someone please, show me where it states these men were "illegal"? Let me guess, their names alone disclose all the facts needed. Even if they were "illegal", does that mean they or their loved ones deserve such a tragedy? These are not just stories, but real events affecting actual human beings. Mean, insulting comments & religous arguments are useless & hurtful. Consider the feelings of your loved ones if they read such comments upon your death or that of someone you love. Instead of passing judgement based on their names or race, how about concentrating on the fact that these men were husbands, fathers, brothers, sons who lived, laughed & loved? Why not debate improving workplace safety & accident prevention instead of ways to "send them back home"?

  • ctct4ever Jun 9, 2011

    Jesus Martinez was a hard working,intellegent,and experienced utility foreman. He worked in utilities for another contractor. many years before going to work for Triangle about a year ago. He loved his family and he died unneccesarily. The company needs to be investigated..they are responsible. Employees can't follow safety requirements/guidelines if the company isn't providing these workers with the neccesary info/equipment. Jesus was just that loyal..he saw his co worker in trouble and immediately went to help. He himself had voiced concerns over faulty equipment, tools and safety...and was told to just get the job done. He stated the company's operation was disorganized and substandard. I pray Triangle is held accountable and answers are given to the families. You will be missed and may you rest in peace Jesus.

  • 1trhl Jun 9, 2011

    Good enough to build our homes, serve us food, serve in our military, and serve on the Supreme Court. The second largest group of citizens living in our country. They're as American as any of us. My condolences go out to their families. This is very tragic.

  • michaelclay Jun 9, 2011

    rick_slick what the heck are you talking about? How do you know that they won't be burried here? This country is made up of all different kinds of people from all over the world but this is there country as much as it is yours or mine. Last names don't make you any more or any less american.

  • hellorhighwaters Jun 8, 2011

    I'm with you rescuefan.....who says these men will not be buried here in this state. rick_slick is looking at the name spelling and assuming.....they could very well be US citizens; and will be buried here in the good old USofA.

    Open your mind up; don't think closed minded.

  • rescuefan Jun 8, 2011

    "I hope the insurance settlement is enough to send those men home for burial - their families deserve that much.
    rick_slick"

    Huh? Who says that they are going to be buried anywhere but here?

  • rick_slick Jun 8, 2011

    I hope the insurance settlement is enough to send those men home for burial - their families deserve that much.

  • hellorhighwaters Jun 8, 2011

    Yea...ajoplin @12:56PM.......hope the family of these men read your comments. And then find a good lawyer.

    Every company needs to re-interact these OSHA procedures from time to time. You see what 'not' following procedure makes happen? Now lets see what the DA has to say about this.

  • mspatag Jun 8, 2011

    I am so sick and tired of these FILTHY RACIST REMARKS, there were TWO LIVES lost why? It should not matter their race. The people making these racist remarks had better remember what goes around comes around. May their families find the answers and the truth to what happened. And may God give them healing.

  • jb22 Jun 8, 2011

    as someone who has done confined space entry for over 25 yrs and having read all these comments and only knowing the facts now avail, and if true i hope these families find the right lawyers.as far as comments skip all the rest and read ajoplin comments @ 12.56 p.m. he explains it all in a nutshell

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