PERRIS: Man nearly swallowed by sinkhole

by Michael Mosher on May 18, 2013

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Jose Morales was working in the yard of his home near Perris when something he never expected happened. The earth collapsed underneath him.

“I thought, oh man, this is it,” Morales said of the incident, which happened on Wednesday, March 20.

He quickly spread his arms and legs and clung to his weed whacker, which caught at an angle stopping it from slipping into the 6-foot-deep hole that appeared under him.

Morales struggled for several minutes to stay on top of the dirt and debris that was pouring onto him from all sides, he said.

“It didn’t stop. It just kept coming,” he said.

When the downpour slowed and Morales was able to climb out, he found himself covered in dust, cockroaches and sewage.

He discovered the top of his septic tank had caved in as Morales stepped onto the place where it was buried.

The “freak accident” has left Jose and his wife, Teri Morales, with a big bill to replace the tank and a perplexing puzzle.

How could this have happened?

“There was no reason. I was just walking and boom, I’m falling in,” Jose said. “That’s a scary thing.”

A septic tank is designed to withstand a lot of weight on top of it – the weight of a man would not have collapsed it. If somebody had put something big on it – a truck, for example – it could have weakened it enough to make it break under a man’s weight, said Larry Moreau, the president of Trailer Products Inc., the Hemet-based business that manufactured the Moraleses’ tank.

“There was a force put on top of (the tank) that was way beyond normal that ripped through the fiber glass,” according to Moreau, who sent workers to investigate the incident.

The couple – who are legal guardians for their 3-year-old grandson Louis Morales – moved into the house in June 2012 from Murrieta, and the tank was replaced just before that, Teri said.

They moved to the rural area on Mazie Avenue for more space to run Jose’s trucking business.

Though he has a trailer truck on his property – and a pickup truck – they never drove it on that spot, he said.

The sink hole, which is about five feet in diameter, sits between a 1-foot-tall retainer wall and a steep slope with no obvious way to get a vehicle onto the spot.

“How could we get a truck up here?” Jose said.

For now, the couple put a big piece of plywood over the hole, but replacing it will cost them more than $4,500, and though Teri works as a health technician at Cole Canyon Elementary School in Murrieta, Jose’s trucking business has been slow.

“There’s just no business right now. Fuel prices are really high and everything’s really slow,” Jose said.

The important thing to the couple is Jose escaped uninjured.

“I’m glad it was me and not my grandson. When I’m working in the yard, he’s like my shadow, collecting rocks, playing with toys,” Jose said. “He would have been buried.”

Full article…here

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