Man Dies in Water Tower Trench Collapse

The collapse of a work trench that killed a worker Wednesday at a new water tower in Arlington could have been prevented, Arlington fire officials said.

The collapse happened just after 7:30 a.m. near the intersection of Arkansas Lane and Ozark Drive.

Officials said Robert Harrell, 34, was a subcontractor working in a 10- to 15-foot-deep trench when the sides gave way. First responders said the trench's walls were not secured.

"It looked like he was in there doing some digging by hand and part of the wall sloughed off and fell against him and pinned him against one of the side walls," said Battalion Chief Bill McQuatters. "It was preventable just by shoring -- proper shoring techniques."

Harrell was reportedly connecting electrical power in the trench when the sides collapsed on top of him.

Arlington firefighters responded in less than three minutes and worked for several hours to recover Harrell's body. Firefighters had to create their own trench box, then dig with shovels and their own hands.

"At each construction site, a hole deeper than five feet requires a trench box or that the hole is done in a V-shaped pattern to prevent sloughing on the sides," said Asst. Chief Alan Kassen. 

James Calderon, an engineering safety consultant who came to the scene because he thought one of his clients was injured, said he tells his clients that safety should always come first.

"They have the mentality: 'I'm only going to be there for a minute and it won't happen to me,'" Calderon said.  

Harrell was a husband and father of two.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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