UPDATE: West Seattle worker killed, state’s first trenching fatality since 2008

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10:52 AM: A big Seattle Fire response is headed to a “trench rescue” call in the 3000 block of 36th SW (map). More to come.

(Added 1:08 pm, WSB photos by Christopher Boffoli, unless otherwise credited)

10:56 AM: From the scanner – first crews on scene say this is a person “buried up to his head” in an 8-foot deep, 3-foot wide hole. They’re working to dig him out. We won’t know until our crew arrives if it is related, but city files show a side-sewer repair permit for the address listed on the 911 log.

(WSB photo by Patrick Sand)

11:09 AM: If you’re in the area, you’ll see specialized SFD vehicles heading that way – technical rescue equipment. (The heavy-rescue vehicle, shown above, is already on scene.) We’re awaiting an update from our crew.

11:16 AM: They’ve confirmed this happened during sewer-repair work. SFD’s public-information officer is on scene and gathering information from the SFD crews, more of which are still arriving. There’s also at least one TV helicopter in the area.


11:21 AM: Just announced via radio communications – “this is now a recovery operation, not a rescue operation.”

11:52 AM: Also just announced – state Labor and Industries, which investigates workplace incidents, is on the way. Seattle Police will investigate the incident for starters, according to SFD, whose spokesperson Corey Orvold has just briefed us and other media at the scene (update: here’s the video):

They say the soil was too dense for them to get to the victim in time – there was no real way to make a path for air.

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They’re still using vacuum equipment to try to clear it. 36th SW remains closed between Hanford and Stevens and likely will be for a while.

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2:21 PM: Some crews remain at the scene. We’ll be checking back there within the hour. No additional investigation information so far. A few lines above, we’ve added the video of the early briefing SFD gave media at the scene.

4:25 PM: Only TV crews left at the scene. Meantime, we just talked with Elaine Fischer at Labor and Industries. She says this was the first trenching fatality in our state since 2008. And she confirms what our search of online records indicated – there was no history of safety investigations for the company doing the work, Alki Construction LLC of Burien. L&I doesn’t have any information about the person who was killed – that would come from the Medical Examiner, likely no sooner than tomorrow. No additional information from SPD, who SFD had indicated would be doing some investigation too.

ADDED WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON: The King County Medical Examiner has identified the victim as 36-year-old Harold Felton. We have a message out to L&I to find out if there’s anything new in the investigation.

67 Replies to "UPDATE: West Seattle worker killed, state's first trenching fatality since 2008"

  • PLS January 26, 2016 (11:11 am)

    Quite busy. Ambulance just backed in. 

  • Hill Crest Manager January 26, 2016 (11:14 am)

    This is a huge call. Just had three or four engines go thundering past us on 35th at Holden.

  • JanS January 26, 2016 (11:17 am)

    helicopters are now circling.., and more sirens going in that direction. Hope the guy trapped will be OK..Scary. The ground is so wet from all the rain we’ve been having  :(

    • WSB January 26, 2016 (11:19 am)

      TV helicopters. The actual rescue scene is almost impossible to see from the ground, we’re told, our photographer says; county assessor’s records show the house is raised high up from the street.

      • JanS January 26, 2016 (11:29 am)

        google maps shows it up on a hill..

  • AJP January 26, 2016 (11:19 am)

    People can easily die in these situations, even with their head out the pressure of the dirt around them can kill them. Always, always shore up a trench that is more than 3 feet deep.

  • Silver January 26, 2016 (11:21 am)

    Silver in Ballard here! I heard on the scanner that SPD was escorting vacuum trucks to the scene. Sadly, it sounds like this is now a recovery operation.

    • WSB January 26, 2016 (11:27 am)

      Hi, Silver! Long time no hear. Thank you. I made note of the “recovery” call above. Our photographer at the scene says that seemed sadly obvious from the expression on the face of one of the person’s co-workers. – Tracy

  • Lauren January 26, 2016 (11:25 am)

    Oh, this is horrific. What a tragedy. 

  • bsmomma January 26, 2016 (11:28 am)

    This is so sad.  Be careful out there and hug everyone you can…..tel them you Love them.  You just never know when it’s going to be your time.

  • Pam January 26, 2016 (11:29 am)

    We live right by here, there are so many sirens. Our thoughts and prayers are with this person and their loved ones.  WSB, please keep us posted if there’s anything we can do! 

    • WSB January 26, 2016 (11:31 am)

      We’ll share all the info we can. Our photographer at the scene is awaiting an official update from the SFD spokesperson. Right now it sounds like what they’re trying to do is plan for the recovery – and to do it as carefully and respectfully as possible.

  • JanS January 26, 2016 (11:31 am)

    so sorry to hear that’s it’s now recovery.:(

  • Andover January 26, 2016 (11:38 am)

    I’m praying for all those involved and sending positive thoughts.  Live nearby and have heard all the sirens and helicopter noise.  This really hits home as it is close and lots of people, including us, have had similar work done and it seems so routine, even if it’s not.  I feel so badly for all involved and if there is anything any of us in the community can do, please let us know.

  • 22blades January 26, 2016 (12:05 pm)

    3 blocks away from incident. Very sad news. A sad reminder that everything we do & everyone we see requires care. My thoughts are with all those close to the tragedy.

  • Mary S January 26, 2016 (12:11 pm)

    So sad. Also feel awful for the people who live there; how tragic.

  • Cami January 26, 2016 (12:14 pm)

    This is horrible.  I’ve lived through more than one sewer repair and with all the rain we’ve had, I’m sure the ground was very unstable.  

  • dsa January 26, 2016 (12:21 pm)

    Sobering,  it only takes few seconds for the trench to fail.  I’ve seen it happen before, fortunately that time was different.

  • David January 26, 2016 (12:30 pm)

    So sad. I have a lot of respect for people that work in these types of utility-related jobs – people whose work keeps the water running, the water clean, the electricity on, the trash picked up, etc., but whose work I feel often doesn’t get the attention and gratitude it deserves because it provides the basic daily things that we often take for granted here and in this country as a whole. And, as this tragic event shows, a lot of these jobs have an inherent potentially life-threatening danger in them. WSB, please keep us updated regarding anything we can do as a community to help.

    • Christine January 26, 2016 (8:12 pm)

      I’m with you on how we assume that everyday services are “just there” and discount the human beings that keep us living with stable utilities. I drove by there today and I’m so sad to hear about the death of the utility worker. I will pray for all involved in this situation.  

  • forgotmyname January 26, 2016 (12:32 pm)

    Something similar happened a couple of blocks over on 13th and Roxbury a few years ago and it was really hard on his fiancee.  Everyone please give your thoughts and prayers for the family. 

  • Pam January 26, 2016 (12:37 pm)

    Didn’t an accident like this happen last year about this time.  The type of house even looks the same?

  • Dr. Bob January 26, 2016 (1:11 pm)

    Was trench shoring in place? Trench shoring is required by law. That’s the first thing L&I will look for. Another needless death of a tradesperson. Very sad.

  • Mel January 26, 2016 (1:28 pm)

    Being crushed to death and suffocating is a painful and slow way to die. Tragic death due entirely to ignoring basic industry standard work procedure and safe work conditions. Unqualified contractor not renting a crane and trench supports.  The foundation of the house is likely undermined buy digging that deep without trench supports to keep soil in place.  Contractor that permitted the work:ALKI CONSTRUCTION LLC2305 SW 114TH STSEATTLE, WA 98146

    • bsmomma January 26, 2016 (1:49 pm)

      I’m not trying to start anything just asking a question….. Did they determine there wasn’t any Trench and Shoring installed?  I was waiting to see that info. Thanks.

    • WSB January 26, 2016 (1:53 pm)

      Mel, L&I is on the scene as noted above – and they will determine if any of that is/was the case. As for the company, its name is public record, at least one of their vehicles was at the scene, and their name is in the link I included early in the story, after finding the site showed a permit for side-sewer repair.

      • Mel January 26, 2016 (2:15 pm)

        Tragic avoidable death. Deepest sympathy to the family and friends. “first crews on scene say this is a person “buried up to his head” in an 8-foot deep, 3-foot wide hole. They’re working to dig him out. ” It is wildly  illegal to have a worker in a  trench this deep without a trench shield box or trench shoring to protect the worker from trench collapse.  The very most basic safety precautions were ignored.   If there was a Trench shield box, they would not be digging out a person “buried up to his head”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trench_shield

          • bsmomma January 26, 2016 (2:24 pm)

            It’s not fair to assume.  I worked as an Assistant Safety Director for many years.  Trenches most definitely can collapse even with Trench and Shoring.  It’s a High Risk job.  Just like Linemen and Crane Operators.  All the safety equipment in the world cannot guarantee something bad won’t happen. It’s very sad that someone lost there life.  Other humans lost a family member/friend.  There really is no need to start lashing out at something and all of the facts are not yet known.

    • Matt S. January 26, 2016 (2:11 pm)

      It seems a little premature, and maybe a bit insensitive, to proclaim the contractor guilty of negligence. Even if it’s true and this was entirely avoidable, many people are struggling with the tragedy: family, responders, co-workers, homeowners, and neighbors. Maybe you were there and know something the rest of us don’t, but either way it can’t hurt to offer a little respect to those dealing with a sudden, violent loss of life.

      • Amy January 26, 2016 (2:27 pm)

        Hi, I 100% agree with Matt. This is a horrible thing for everyone involved. Some compassion vs slandering the contractor would be appreciated. 

  • Jissy January 26, 2016 (1:44 pm)

    Man, just a pit in my stomach reading this and the story just after…. God be with these families.  

  • Diane January 26, 2016 (2:46 pm)

    learned about this via TV noon news~live within 2 blocks; heard nothing; so very sad

  • MrsMarty January 26, 2016 (2:56 pm)

    Matt S and Amy__________AMEN to that I agree with you both…someone’s life was just lost and also the family members…life is too short.  

  • pjmanley January 26, 2016 (3:04 pm)

    Too soon, detectives.  

  • human being January 26, 2016 (3:51 pm)

    Whoa, Mel. Chill out. While I totally appreciate your knowledge of trench digging and safety, I think your comments go way too far. Maybe you were on the scene and saw the whole thing go down and know your accusations to be 100% truth….even then I think you should hold back from attacking the company.  These are people we’re talking about and you can’t unring that bell. You know? This was a horrible tragedy regardless of whether it was an accident or willful neglect. WSB readers don’t need to be judge and jury of every incident that’s reported on. Let’s just try to be good neighbors. Yeah?

  • Melissa January 26, 2016 (3:56 pm)

    Do we know yet if the hole was shored? Do we know if it was the owner Phil or one of his employees?

  • WS Girl January 26, 2016 (5:11 pm)

    Well said Human Being  Condolences to all,  family, co workers, company and property owners, responders and community. Sad day in West Seattle.  

  • Jumpy January 26, 2016 (5:56 pm)

    I think we have to stop with the jumping to conclusions and wait for the info. This could have been no one’s fault and a freak accident . So sad that someone is gone I agree with human being just be good neighbors after all WE ARE ALL DOING LIFE TOGETHER

  • claire January 26, 2016 (6:38 pm)

    What sadness…my thoughts are with the workers and their families.  

  • Chris January 26, 2016 (7:54 pm)

    We are heartbroken to see this…  Phil and team replaced our side sewer a couple months ago.  The trenches were shored up when they were working and we were very pleased with the work and results.   Our thoughts are with Phil, his crew and their families…  

    • Amy January 27, 2016 (6:26 am)

      I agree! Phil has also done work on our home and is one of the nicest guys you could meet. During the job we could see that he cares for and does everything in his power to protect the guys that work for him. I know that he could use all of the community support and positive thoughts that we can give him right now. 

  • tom January 26, 2016 (8:56 pm)

    Is there a fund for the family of this guy?

    • tk January 26, 2016 (9:08 pm)

      I just heard who this was from a close friend of his.  I’ll let the family or the authorities identify him, but I know that his family could definitely use some help at this time.    

  • Cory January 26, 2016 (9:23 pm)

    Shoring boxes are rarely used in this situation.  Usually it is done with hydrolic shoring that is put in from top of trench by hand. Trench boxes are rarely installed with cranes most often they are set with tractors; back hoes, loaders, or excavators. Shoring can and does fail, or a slide at the edge of a trench can carry someone into the ditch. Likely there was an error in judgement or procedure but that is not the same as negligence. Permit was pulled the job would not be inspected without shoring, so accusations of intentional negligence are likely unfounded. Those of us in the business have all been in a ditch we didn’t  belong in, to our employers horror. How many of you have driven without a seat belt “just for a quick drive”?This is a compeditor of mine I  didn’t  know him, but today he is my brother. Pray for his family and those left behind. Let the investigation go forward. Then, and only then, we can point fingers IF a corner cut was fatal.

    • tom January 26, 2016 (9:50 pm)

      Cory I couldn’t agree with you more.

  • Chris January 26, 2016 (9:40 pm)

    Mel you don’t know anything about what happened except what you see on the news . yet your just jumping to all kinds of conclusions and making the business owner look bad. I’m friends with the guy and do the same work. FYI that trench was shored and it may be hard to believe but even that gives way sometimes. Doing that kind of work anything can happen and it happens so fast you don’t have time to react. Alki sewer does very good work. Accidents do happen even when safety precautions are taken. 

  • Mike January 26, 2016 (10:04 pm)

    Cory, well said. Your company and this company is a competitor to my company. I’ve never let my guys go in trenches that weren’t up to LNI standards but I’ve jumped in really quick to tighten a fitting or pull a test plug in trenches deeper than 4 feet. I’ve seen trenches collapse with shoring in place.  If you’re using Fin Form to shore you have to get in the trench before its shored to place the shoring.  My thoughts and sympathies are with this man’s family. Everyone in my family was trying to call me when it happened, because we do the same work in the same neighborhood. This hits really close to home. 

  • LyndaB January 26, 2016 (10:59 pm)

    I was saddened to hear this and then it made me think of the tragedy when the Enterprise rental place was building their car wash.   Was this the 2008 case cited?  Prayers for the family.

    • Sal January 28, 2016 (11:25 am)

      Yes the 2008 trench collapse was cited and affirmed as written. Charlies Backhoe Service. they since went out of business. no shoring was used. there was a trench box available 20 feet away from the excavation

  • pjmanley January 27, 2016 (12:44 am)

    This is going to weigh heavy on the minds of all you tradesman around here for the next several days, so I pray you all keep your focus on safety and take it slow and easy.  Things like this can shake a person to their core, and distract even the toughest, most careful and professional out there.  So be mindful of the raw nerves and anxiety to be expected following something like this.  

    • 22blades January 27, 2016 (8:05 am)

      PJ Manley; Can’t agree with you more. I’m in a different line of with an inordinate number of funerals and I agree that the distraction  along with some unchecked complacency increases the risk right now. No matter what your trade or profession, please take it slow and be careful out there.

  • Plumber in west Seattle January 27, 2016 (7:50 am)

    I have been plumbing in Seattle for ten years and not one time has an inspector asked for shoring in the hole from the city or county depending on whether its inside or outside of the building the only time an inspector cares is if it is Osha or lni.so the statement that getting the inspection requiring shoring is not true. I replaced a sewer in this area recently due to it being mostly sand the rain actually helps the stability of the sand ever tried building a sand castle without adding water. if a hole is truly shored correctly it will not cave to this extent. I am not sure how long the hole was but 3′ wide is not long enough to put full shoring boards in so if you are in a 3′ x4′ hole 2 8′ tall sand walls are left unsupported with a man crouched at the bottom working on a sewer 

  • Friend January 27, 2016 (8:07 am)

    The assumptions made and accusations leveled in many of these comments are very inappropriate.  There was an accident.  It was tragic.  As far as we know that man could have mistepped and fallen in a trench.  How many of us have run our cars into something, tripped, or fallen down…  Sh-t happens.  As a community, I think we should focus on offering support to the family and coworkers of the victim, and lay the judgement and speculation to rest.  West Seattle is a small community.  Chances are you are connected in one way or another to the victim, his family, or his coworkers and friends.  Be kind. 

  • Angel G January 27, 2016 (11:04 am)

    This is a very tragic event that took place yesterday morning. My heart goes out to the family at this time as they are mourning the loss of their loved one with many questions that still remain unanswered as to why this happened to this young father of a baby girl “Grace” that just turned 4 months yesterday. I knew his wife and can’t imagine what this young mother is going through with the loss of not only her husband, best friend, but soulmate. May God bless you with the strength to stay strong. I love you Jenna. 

  • Mike Numrich January 27, 2016 (11:53 am)

    …this company replaced our main line on McGilvra Blvd. in Madison Park 4 mo. ago and did a fine job.  They used proper shoring and best practices (I watched during the entire job)  I got to know the owner and perceived him to have the utmost concern for the safety of his workers and the project as a whole…I can’t help but think this was an anomoly…tragic nonetheless… 

  • BM January 27, 2016 (12:18 pm)

    If your getting into a trench to install speed shoring, your doing it wrong, take a class, get educated, do it right, save a life.  Sewer inspectors are not required to inspect or judge if proper shoring is in place. If work is being done that requires a City employee to enter the trench, they will have the shoring and data sheets for the shoring assessed before entering, or require the shoring be improved as needed before entering. Typical inspections for sidesewers rarely ever require an inspector to enter trench.    

  • Todd January 27, 2016 (12:57 pm)

    I’ve worked along side with this company many times before being a side sewer contractor myself. The owner is a good friend of ours. You don’t use cranes for this kind of situation to shore a hole as Mel stated. You use fin forms and jacks. And as a unqualified contractor you don’t know what you’re talking about. These things unfortunately happen even in a properly shored hole. You’re not required to put in end protection which is what caved in. 

  • Todd January 27, 2016 (1:42 pm)

    ps L&I found no safety violations 

  • Chris January 27, 2016 (1:53 pm)

    Very tragic.  BTW, the new Seattle Fire Dept. spokesperson is TERRIBLE.  Please bring back Sue Stangl for proper and professional PIO services.  Sheesh…

  • Josh Huston January 27, 2016 (3:38 pm)

    My sister is the wife of Harold Felton, I have set up a campaign to help my sister and baby niece through this difficult time. My family expresses their warmest thanks to everyone expressing their condolences. If you would like to donate and support my sister and her daughter please follow the link to the GoFundMe page in the website of this post. This is the ONLY official campaign approved by my family for my sister. No others have been approved or recognized, and could likely be fraud using our tragedy.Thank you, God bless.

    • WSB January 27, 2016 (3:41 pm)

      Thank you, Josh, and we are sorry for your loss. The King County Medical Examiner’s Office just identified Mr. Felton on its daily media-update line and I had just added that to the story – will publish a separate story with the GoFundMe campaign shortly. – Tracy

    • Kate & Erex January 27, 2016 (4:17 pm)

      Josh, We will be looking for the link. We love this family and want to do what we can to support.  Harold was one of the best guys out there and we want to keep Jenna and baby surrounded by love at this time and always.    

  • MA January 27, 2016 (4:30 pm)

    I have only the highest regard for Alki Sewer. Extensive work was done on my Property and neighboring houses this past summer.  Harold was here every day. A hard worker and fine individual. My heart is breaking for this tragic loss to his  family and friends.  Marilyn

  • Charlie G January 28, 2016 (10:56 am)

    Having done a great deal of manual labor during my life, I developed quite a bit of respect and admiration for the dedicated, hard work done by Harold, Max, and Phil on a joint repair project they did for me and my neighbors this past year. Harold’s baby was born in the midst of that job and remembering what a proud papa he was brings tears to my eyes. My heart goes out to his family as well as to his great friends Max and Phil for such a tragic loss.

  • Charlie G January 28, 2016 (12:02 pm)

    Just found the GoFundMe page set up by Jenna’s brother Josh Huston for support of Jenna and Grace Felton and made a donation.It’s here: https://www.gofundme.com/feltonsupport

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