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Fatal sewer line accident in North Texas

/ Source: The Associated Press

One worker is dead and another is missing after they were apparently overcome by gas fumes while working on a sewer line without protective breathing equipment in North Texas, emergency officials said Thursday.

Fairview fire Chief Dick Price said the dead man's body was found Thursday morning. He said emergency personnel using oxygen and wearing protective gear are searching for the missing worker in the sewer in Fairview, a small town about 30 miles north of Dallas.

"Certainly we want to be optimistic," Price said. But he acknowledged that the chances of finding the second man alive are "pretty slim," adding that he may have been swept downstream.

The workers were likely overcome by gas when they tried to replace a plug on a line that was part of a larger sewer system, Fairview Police Chief Granver Tolliver said.

The supervisor went into the sewer without a mask or other breathing equipment to remove the plug as part of the final stage of a yearlong operation, Tolliver said. When he didn't emerge, one of the other workers went down to get him, also without protective gear, he said.

The third worker — a brother of the man who died — went to get a rope, Tolliver said.

"This was just a wrap-up operation," Tolliver said. "They were pretty much done with the project, and they realized, 'Hey, we've got one line we need to unplug.' That probably added to the lack of safety measures."

It is standard procedure for those working on sewer lines to monitor air quality before going in, but it wasn't clear if they had conducted those checks, Price said.

"Our initial indications are that the oxygen level was probably insufficient to support their operation," Price said.

North Texas Municipal Water District spokeswoman Denise Hickey said the missing workers had been contracted from S.J. Louis Construction of Texas, Ltd. A person answering the phone at the company's Mansfield office said they had no comment. A message left at the corporate headquarters in Rockville, Minn., was not immediately returned.

The names of the workers haven't been released.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the incident.


Associated Press writers Danny Robbins and Diana Heidgerd in Dallas contributed to this report.