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Friends, family lose hope for sinkhole victim

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 09:59 PM
SEFFNER -

As dusk settled over the neighborhood where a sleeping man disappeared into a sinkhole, faint hope gave way to grim resignation Saturday evening.

Family and friends had been eager to see a search get under way for Jeffrey Bush, a 37-year-old landscaper who was swallowed up by a now-50-foot-deep hole that opened up under his bed Thursday night at 240 Faithway Dr.

Then they came to understand that the hole will likely be his grave.

"We are moving from recovery to demolition," Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill said shortly after 5 p.m. "We can no longer sustain recovery efforts."

The ground under the house is "very, very unstable," making it too dangerous for rescuers to try reaching Bush, Merrill said. Authorities, he said, did not want to risk anymore lives.

Leland "Buddy" Wicker, who owns the blue house where Bush disappeared, expressed sorrow and understanding.

"There were years of memories in that house," said Wicker, 75. "But the hardest thing is losing Jeffrey."

Bush's family and friends, who spent the day waiting and praying for a good outcome, learned about the decision to end the search moments before a news conference.

Wicker said he would have liked the search to continue for the man he called "a great guy," but was at peace with why it ended.

"I don't want any other people getting hurt," said Wicker, standing across the street from the house he has owned since 1974. "There has been enough hurt."

Demolition work will begin this morning, said Merrill, as heavy equipment begins to take apart the condemned house from a distance. No equipment will be allowed closer than the sidewalk.

Eventually, crews will try to stabilize the hole, now about 30 feet wide, with gravel and sand, said Ross McGillivray, chief engineer with Ardaman and Associates, a geotechnical engineering firm helping analyze the soil in the neighborhood.

That may or may not help those living on either side of 240 Faithway Dr., he said.

Investigators found soil samples that showed neighboring houses were compromised, so the residents of 242 and 238 Faithway Dr. were given a short time Saturday afternoon to gather as many belongings as possible before leaving.

"They suffered a loss as well," said Wanda Carter, Wicker's daughter, whose niece is to marry Bush's brother Jeremy. "They have all their memories in their homes too."

Wicker said Jeremy Bush is suffering.

"Jeremy is hurt," said Wicker. "He lost his brother."

But as sad as he was, Wicker said he was also thankful the disaster wasn't worse.

There were others in the house at the time, including Jeremy Bush; his girlfriend, Rachel Wicker; and the couple's 2-year-old daughter Hannah.

"They could have all went down," Wicker said. "I thank the Lord."

Wicker said he was not sure whether there will be a memorial service for Bush. If so, it will likely be private.

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