Trapped in a trench, rescuers dig out son but father doesn’t survive

By James Fuller

Herman Calloway Sr. and Jr. both earned their livings getting their hands dirty as construction workers. On Monday, one of them gave his life to the profession. The other gave his father.

The father-and-son team were buried at Wheaton Warrenville South High School in Wheaton when a wall of asphalt, rock and dirt collapsed on them while they were digging a trench for the school’s expansion project. Students had already been dismissed when the collapse occurred.

Three workers, including the elder Calloway’s second son, Kevin, immediately began scratching away at the mound of earth with shovels and hands.

Emergency personnel arrived soon after a 911 call came in at 2:52 p.m. They removed the three construction workers who were digging and began the effort to extract the Calloways. It was soon evident that only one of them would come out of the hole alive.

“At this point in time, we’re considering it a recovery and not a rescue,” said Wheaton Fire Chief Greg Berk, shortly after the younger Calloway, 51 and of South Holland, was airlifted to Good Samaritan Hospital in nearby Downers Grove.

Emergency workers never saw or heard signs of life from the elder Calloway. Still, it took nearly seven hours to extract him from the depths of the 15-foot-deep trench to make the final call.

A chaplain consoled family members as they watched from behind yellow police tape and vacuums and an air knife stripped away the rubble. The pit was too unstable for emergency workers to enter, requiring the dirt to be removed by hand from an adjacent storm sewer pipe.

An effort to pull the elder Calloway out through that 36-inch pipe was eventually aborted, adding to the delay.
The DuPage County coroner’s office pronounced Calloway, 74, of Chicago, dead by 7:22 p.m., but his body was not completely freed until about 9:21 p.m.

Both men were trapped inches from one another, according to Berk. It’s unclear why the younger Calloway escaped with only a possible pelvis fracture, but Berk said it appeared from the positioning of the elder Calloway’s body that he took the brunt of the collapse.

Why the collapse occurred at all will be investigated by Wheaton police and the Office of Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

What is known is the safety apparatus typically used in trench work, a 10-by-10-foot steel box, was not down in the 25-foot-long trench. Instead, it was topside, next to the trench and not in use, according to Wheaton police Cmdr. Terry Mee.

It’s not clear why it was not in the trench.

The coroner’s office will perform a postmortem exam of Calloway today at about noon to determine the exact cause of death.

Bovis Lend Lease is the general contractor for the school’s expansion project and did not speculate on the cause of the accident in a statement released by the company. The Calloways worked for a subcontractor, Hamilton Construction, hired specifically to install the storm water pipes.


Posted on June 7, 2005, in Breaking News, Wheaton. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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