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Search for man under Seffner Sinkhole abandoned

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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 Drive.

Then they came to understand that the hole likely will 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 to reach Bush, Merrill said. Authorities did not want to risk any more lives, he said.

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 when heavy equipment will be used to take apart the condemned house from a distance, Merrill said. No equipment will be allowed closer than the sidewalk.

"This is very unusual," said Ross McGillivray, chief engineer with Ardaman and Associates, a geotechnical engineering firm helping analyze the soil in the neighborhood.

"I have been doing this since 1970. I don't know of any other sinkholes that caused a fatality."

The home itself may have contributed to the problems, he said.

"A more robust structure, modern design, may have survived better," said McGillivray. "There may be some issues that we don't know for sure, in terms of the construction of this house. We do know the floor slab was very thin and that could have been part of the problem."

Eventually, crews will try to stabilize the hole, now about 30 feet wide, with gravel and sand, McGillivray said.

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

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

Accompanied by Hillsborough County Fire Rescue crews, each family had about half an hour to take out their most prized possessions, which included guitars, fishing rods, pictures and many, many boxes.

County officials have yet to decide whether those homes will be condemned, but the residents will not be allowed back inside, Merrill said.

No cavities have been found under the other homes, McGillivray said, but samples showed "soil concerns similar to the sinkhole."

"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."

At the scene, residents of the homes declined comment.

Efforts to reach the owners — Lisa Jaudon at 242 Faithway Drive and Jeffrey Allen at 238 Faithway Drive — were unsuccessful.

The residents of 242 Faithway Drive were planning to stay with friends from a nearby church, according to Kelly Engel, with Hillsborough County Social Services. No information was available about where the others would spend the night.

Ricky Arey, who lives across the street from 240 Faithway Drive, was relieved to learn Saturday evening that soil tests on his home, 239 Faithway Drive, showed no problems.

Arey said that because his home is at a higher elevation, it was spared the fate of the blue house across the street with an American flag flying outside.

Wicker said Jeremy Bush is suffering.

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

But as sad as he was, Wicker said he also was 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."

Carter said she, too, was thankful, especially for a Hillsborough sheriff's deputy who helped pull Jeremy Bush to safety after a failed attempt to rescue his brother.

"I can't say enough about Deputy Douglas Duvall," said Carter. "He risked his life to save Jeremy."

The community, she said, "has been outstanding. They have donated food and clothing. My family lost everything in that house."

Merrill said it is possible that workers might be able to recover some items from 240 Faithway Drive during demolition.

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

Hillsborough fire officials announced that a relief fund has been set up for families affected by the sinkhole. To donate, go to firefighter-relief.com.

If you would like to contact the family, email WickerFamilyHCFR@gmail.com.


haltman@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7629

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