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Trench safety expert discusses deadly collapse in Punta Gorda

Collapsed Trench
Posted at 6:39 PM, May 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-11 06:40:34-04

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. — After a trench collapse took the lives of two workers in Punta Gorda, Fox 4 is looking into the safety measures meant to prevent this.

On Tuesday, the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) identified the two men as Marcos Santiz-Lopez, 41, and Brandon M. Colburn, 25.

CCSO said detectives have not found any evidence that the deadly collapse was either intentional or a criminal act.

So next up the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will investigate the collapse and look into the site and the safety measures they had in place.

According to Dawn Morse, a Safety Committee Member for the North American Excavation Shoring Association (NAXSA) there is a reason why a trench collapsed, killing two workers off Burnt Store Road in Punta Gorda.

“Mother nature is never going to hold the ground…100%,” said Morse.

On Tuesday, Jon Jensen, Lieutenant, Special Operations for Charlotte County was one of the first responders at the scene after the collapse.

“Trench situations are kind of unique rescue situations,” said Jensen.

A challenge Jensen said their crews train for and had to put into action Monday afternoon.

“Our key goal is to make sure that we don’t create any more problems, we don't create any more patients or any more victims, so we have to stabilize the incident as much as we can,” said Jensen.

Lieutenant Jensen said his crew used these giant wood planks, called Fenform to stabilize the walls of the trench, so the soil doesn't collapse during their rescue.

A piece of equipment that does a similar job to a Trench Box, which Dawn Morse said can be used to protect workers from a collapse.

“ Because of the size and the bulk of a trench box, and I don't know, I don't do trench excavation for a living so I couldn't say for sure”

What Lieutenant Jensen could say, is the trench was 10 feet deep before the collapse and he did not see a trench box at the scene when he arrived.

“There would need to be a trench box, in place, something needs to be in place,” said Morse.

That's especially necessary in the Sunshine State, where Florida trench safety experts like Jason Fiegueredo said we have very wet, weak soil.

“Just like you go to the beach, and you are digging the sand and within seconds you can see it all fall onto each other,” said Fiegueredo.

OSHA is the government agency that is in charge of looking into the construction site and the safety precautions that led up to the collapse - a tragedy that Morse said she is seeing more frequently around the nation.

“I have reported on seven in the last maybe two weeks at the most,” said Morse.

On Tuesday, we reached out to OSHA to ask them about their findings so far, but they have not released any updates.