updated 3/8/2006 12:01:42 AM ET 2006-03-08T05:01:42

A dairy worker and his 8-year-old son died in a manure pit on the farm where they lived, authorities said Tuesday.

Luis Gutierrez, 27, and Luis Armando Gutierrez went to feed calves Saturday night and apparently stumbled upon the manure pit in the dark, investigators said.

Footsteps near the edge of the 10-foot deep pit seem to suggest one of them fell in, said Kings County Sheriff Allan McClain.

“We could see the dad seemed to be doing what he could to reach his son,” McClain said. “But this stuff ... if you step in, it sucks you in.”

When Gutierrez and his son didn’t return, family members called the dairy’s owners and the sheriff’s department for help.

Investigators found Luis Gutierrez’s stalled pickup with its hood up. They said the Gutierrezes probably got out of the truck and tried to take a shortcut home.

The dairy’s owners dredged the cement-lined holding pond that collects rainwater and manure running from the farm, and the bodies were pulled from it early Sunday, McClain said.

The 9-year-old was the oldest of four children Luis Gutierrez had with his 22-year-old wife, Maria.

The county coroner is still working on the autopsy, but investigators don’t suspect foul play. McClain said the pair may have drowned in the thick, foul-smelling sludge. It’s also possible they were overwhelmed with noxious gases emanating from the mixture.

The state’s workplace safety office is investigating the incident, Cal-OSHA spokesman Dean Fryer said.

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