Woods still handling aftermath of trench collapse

By: April Lehmbeck | Grosse Pointe Times | Published June 17, 2015

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GROSSE POINTE WOODS — Almost eight months after a trench collapse took the life of a Sterling Heights man in a typically peaceful neighborhood in Grosse Pointe Woods, city officials continue to work on issues related to the tragic incident.


Communities and agencies that helped in the effort have sent Grosse Pointe Woods bills related to the costs they incurred for their efforts during the two-day rescue and recovery effort. With costs incurred by Grosse Pointe Woods and other communities, the total of the recovery effort exceeds $300,000, according to city officials.


“We’ve received several invoices from responding agencies that came to the aid that day,” Woods City Administrator Al Fincham said. 


The city is working through insurance companies on those costs. The insurance companies involved include the insurance company of the contractor working on-site that day. City Attorney Don Berschback said that the city is invested in making sure those who assisted the city on that day get paid for their costs.


Leland Rumph, 59, of Sterling Heights, died in late October during work on a vacant lot in the 20100 block of Fairway Drive to prepare for the construction of a new home. The work crew was excavating about 20 feet into the ground to do a tap for a water line when the trench collapse began. First responders were able to partially dig out Rumph and had removed dirt from around his head, neck, shoulders and arms. They were said to be administering oxygen to him and holding his hand when secondary collapses began, forcing them to evacuate the trench.


Rumph became completely covered with dirt after the secondary collapse and additional collapses that followed. His body was later recovered.


A public safety officer from Grosse Pointe Woods who was injured during the rescue effort was still off duty this month.


“He is scheduled to return to full duty at the end of this month,” Fincham said.


While there has been no movement to build a home on that site since the collapse, the owner does still have a permit for work, which city officials said was on hold. The permit is good through this fall, Fincham said.


However, Berschback said that he is in the process of contacting the owner of the lot about the water line that they were working on tapping into when the trench collapse began.


“Since he tapped into our water line, he’s going to have to redo what should have been done properly in the first place,” Berschback said. “We don’t want that line to be compromised.”


That will need to be done whether someone ends up building on that lot or not, he explained.


Woods officials are waiting on that work so the city can do necessary sidewalk and street work in that area.


“We don’t want to put in a sidewalk and a street and have to tear it up again,” Fincham said.


As for any investigations in the incident, Berschback said there was inquiry from the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but the outcome of that is still in the works.


“We obviously fully cooperated with them,” he said of their requests following the incident. “We’re not expecting anything significant out of that.”

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