Local News

Construction worker from Georgia killed in Durham trench collapse

Posted January 17, 2020 3:02 p.m. EST
Updated January 17, 2020 3:57 p.m. EST

The man killed in Wednesday's trench collapse in Durham was a construction worker from Georgia, a friend said.

The friend told WRAL News that Frank “Trey” Warren Thompson III, 42, of Dalton, Ga., was working in Durham at the construction site for a gas station. A funeral service is planned for Sunday afternoon.

Thompson and three others were trapped Wednesday afternoon when the trench collapsed around 11 a.m. at a gas station construction site at 4209 Corners Parkway, near the intersection of TW Alexander Drive and Glenwood Avenue.

One of the workers was able to escape the trench on his own, authorities said. One was in the trench up to his thighs and was able to walk with assistance after being rescued. Another worker was in trapped up to his chest in the trench. Sky 5 footage showed him being taken out of the trench alive on a gurney around 12:30 p.m.

Thompson's body was recovered just before 5 p.m.

Durham Fire Chief Chris Iannuzzi said Thompson had likely been completely covered when the trench collapsed.

“When it collapsed on them, it’s pretty hard to breathe down there,” said Erik Flores, a supervisor on a construction team that was working nearby.

In calls to 911, witnesses described the frantic rescue effort that began as soon as the trench collapsed.

"We can hear the one that’s down under the dirt. They’ve almost got him to where he’s able to get out. They’re digging him out by hand," one caller said.

"He’s digging himself out," the caller said of another victim. "People are digging him out as well but with shovels."

Richard Ray, battalion chief for the Durham Fire Department, said after the first three workers were freed, the process to reach the fourth slowed as a precaution, to protect the rescuers.

"It took quite a bit of time at that point. It slowed the process down due to the dangers associated with the trench collapse," he said. "We are doing things safely, following protocols, that kind of stuff.

It took a bit more time to get him out due to his position as well. It made it an extended recovery.”

In trench work, investigators with the North Carolina Department of Labor look for these factors for protection of workers:

  • Proper slope or trench box protection
  • Soil type, especially after rain
  • A qualified person to detect hazards and supervise workers
  • Soil placed at least 2 feet away from any trench

DR Mozeley Construction Group of Charlotte, the contractor of record for the gas station project, subcontracted with Georgia-based J Squared Plumbing, spokesman Monty Hagler said.

Hagler said workers were not scheduled to work in trench deeper than 3 feet. It still in not clear why the four were in a deeper trench when it collapsed. Officials said the trench was 6 to 8 feet deep after the collapse. They said they didn’t know how deep it was beforehand.