OSHA investigating Conroe tunnel death

August 19, 2009 4:08:24 PM PDT
Federal investigators are on the scene of a deadly accident in Conroe trying to answer exactly what happened inside a tunnel where a construction worker was killed Tuesday. Twenty-four hours after a worker died inside the tunnel, Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigators and attorneys for the company were still on site, trying to determine exactly what happened.

Nearby, store employee Christine Williams still remembers the frantic moments after the worker.

"All we could see was the hat. We needed more help. It wasn't coming fast enough, and I saw the ambulance going the wrong way. It was frustrating," said Williams.

The man had worked for nine years for the Boring and Tunneling Company of America. On Wednesday, flags at the company headquarters flew at half-staff. The company's president says his crews build tunnels under highways every day and Tuesday was supposed to be no different.

One crew member was further in the tunnel than others when a massive storm unleashed a torrent of water with no warning.

"A freak flood event occurred and somehow or another, the rain water penetrated through the ground into our excavation," said Dale Kornegay, President of BorTunCo.

Kornegay said tunneling is inherently dangerous and his company takes safety very seriously. A check with OSHA shows the company was investigated four times in the last 10 years, twice in 2001, once in 2002, and once the following year.

This latest investigation could take up to six months to complete and Kornegay says it will likely give them the answer of what went wrong.

"Having gone through 24 hours of self-flagellation of what did we do wrong, what did we do different, how do we make sure it doesn't happen again. We're going to find something, but we haven't found it yet," said Konegay.

Investigators say the worker was the only one inside the pipe, at least 100 feet in. Just as it started raining, his supervisor told him to get out. He was making his way out of the pipe when the flood water overcame him quickly.

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