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Home razed, keepsakes retrieved

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 10:04 PM
SEFFNER -

Cheryl Hamlyn watched as construction crews demolished the house where a man died after being sucked into a sinkhole. She felt sad, she said, for the man and his family and those living in her neighborhood.

"All of the sudden, I feel like I live next to the San Andreas fault," said Hamlyn, referring to a fault line in California.

Hillsborough County code enforcement officers have canvassed the neighborhood, looking at other houses for potential problems.

"They are watching the demolition," said county spokesman Willie Puz. Code enforcement is "paying close attention to the demolition, along with the engineering teams, who will make a determination on other homes in the weeks to follow."

Puz said inspectors will look at the building plans of the house that was destroyed and examine the building codes in place at the time the home was built in 1974.

Building codes are only guidelines, he said, and a sinkhole such as this probably would have destroyed a house built under current codes.

"This was an act of nature," he said.

The act of nature is causing nearby residents to question their safety and the long-term impact on their neighborhood four days after the cave-in that took the life of Jeff Bush as he slept in his bedroom at 420 Faithway Drive.

"People won't buy a house where they'll think this can happen to them," said Narciso Lisboa, a neighbor.

Hamlyn's husband said his home's property value could decline but that he won't know until it is appraised in November.

"There could be an impact," Steve Hamlyn said. "Sinkholes were always somebody else's problem. Now everybody in this neighborhood is going to sit back and rethink this."

Insurance adjusters already have visited the neighborhood, he said.

Hamlyn, who lives two blocks from where Bush died, said a man knocked on his door during the weekend, asking whether he had sinkhole insurance. The Hamlyns also got mailers Saturday advertising sinkhole coverage.

"They work fast," Hamlyn said.

Bush, 37, disappeared into the hole that opened in his bedroom at 11 p.m. Thursday, authorities said.

His brother, Jeremy, 36, was unable to pull Bush out and was helped out of the house by a Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy. Jeremy Bush's girlfriend, Rachel Wicker, their daughter, Hannah, 2, and Wicker's father and aunt escaped unharmed.

Leland Wicker, 75, the owner of the house, was not home at the time.

The sinkhole was about 20 feet wide and 50 feet deep Saturday. Officials described it as a chasm.

By Sunday, the sheriff's office had ruled the freak occurrence a death investigation because there were "no environmental conditions inside the sinkhole that could sustain human life," sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon said.

Demolition of the small aqua-blue house began Sunday, and it was completely razed by 4 p.m. Monday. The sinkhole was not clearly visible, but its depth could be seen when a backhoe's hydraulic claw reached into the cavity to dig out chunks of concrete foundation.

The sinkhole opened under the east wall of Jeff Bush's bedroom, taking his mattress, dresser and television into the ground.

"That's the hole I jumped in," Jeremy Bush said of his attempt to rescue his brother. "I just want to let him know I love him. I tried to get you out, bro."

Bush said he doesn't think his brother's body will be found. "I really believe that's where he's going to stay," Bush said. "That's his resting place."

Maybe, he said, something will be built on the property that would honor Jeff Bush's memory.

"What I would like is some kind of headstone for him," Bush said. "A memorial. Maybe a bench where my mom can sit."

As heavy machinery ripped apart the house, workers salvaged what they could: a jacket hanging from a hook in what was Jeff Bush's bedroom, Bibles, some china, photographs and two shotguns that had been in the family for three generations.

"We were told at first that we wouldn't be able to recover anything in the house," said Wanda Carter, daughter of patriarch Leland Wicker. "So every little thing they bring out is so heart-touching."

The next step is for crews to determine the edges of the sinkhole and to fill in the cavity with sand and gravel, Puz said.

He gave no timeline for when that phase will start, saying crews have to work carefully because the ground is unstable.

The two houses adjacent to Wicker's, which were evacuated Friday, have not been condemned, but the county has talked to the homeowners about living elsewhere, Puz said.

"There's an understanding that they won't be going in the homes again."


rreyes@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7920 Twitter: @TBORay

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