Construction worker dies in watery grave

Construction worker drowns underground in Conroe

August 19, 2009

A recovery effort began in Conroe around 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday after a sudden storm that may have caused a man to die in a water-filled pipe with no exit.

The horrific accident was reported at 3:15 p.m. beneath Interstate 45, north of Gladstell, where a four-man crew was working on a 24-inch water line being installed for the City of Conroe.

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Asst. Chief Paul Sims, of the Conroe Fire Department said the call was dispatched as a water rescue. While en route, firefighters received information that three construction workers were trapped. They arrived to find two were safely above ground, but one was still missing, Sims said. The foreman was able to pull two of the workers out, but unable to rescue the third.

The situation became a recovery of the victim’s body, pumping water from the 140 foot horizontal pipe adjacent to the 12 foot deep space where the crew was working when disaster struck.

Conroe Fire Chief Ken Kreger said a sudden influx of water caused the tragedy, filling the hole where they were working and overcoming them before the last man could escape.

Kreger said despite the dryness above ground, there is still plenty of water down below and the flow could have come from a broken main, a sewer line, or groundwater, which was the explanation that seemed most likely. However, Kreger cautioned there was no determination Tuesday afternoon, and the idea that a sudden rain storm caused the deadly water flow was only speculation.

CFD pumped the water using a firetruck and pumps from Conroe Public Works, who also sent a camera into the hole to search for the victim.

The remains were discovered about 50 feet into the horizontal pipe that ran underground beneath the interstate.
The victim, whose identity was not released, worked for Burtunco, which is a contractor for Williams Brothers. Burtunco safety officer, Holton Ferguson would not comment. OSHA had representatives on the scene even before recovery was made.

CFD was assisted by The Woodlands Fire Department. Conroe Police also provided various forms of assistance.

The victim was later identified as 39-year-old Calos Mendez Lemus, a Mexican national living in Houston. The Mexican Consulate assisted in notifying Lemus’ family and arrangements were made to return his body to Mexico.

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