The deadly sinkhole in Seffner killed one man, displaced three families and rattled a community.
The healing process is just beginning.
A memorial for Jeff Bush, the man who died when the ground collapsed in his bedroom, will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Bell Shoals Baptist Church, 2102 Bell Shoals Road in Brandon. The public is invited to attend.
On Monday, Bush’s relatives released a statement thanking the community for its support.
“We are grateful for the prayers, kindness and outpouring of support as our family heals,” family members said. “We’d like to invite our community to be with us to celebrate Jeffery’s life and our journey forward.”
Bush, 37, was sleeping at about 11 p.m. Feb. 28 when the bedroom floor collapsed into a sinkhole that had formed under the house. Five other people in the house managed to escape.
Emergency crews were not able to save him or the home at 240 Faithway Drive. The home, owned by Leland Wicker for 39 years, was demolished March 4 and the sinkhole filled in. Bush’s body could not be recovered.
Wicker said his family is slowly recovering. A few family members have returned to work and the entire clan spends more time together, he said. His granddaughter is the girlfriend of Jeff Bush’s brother, Jeremy, who had invited Jeff to move in with them because he needed a place to stay.
“We’re taking it day by day,” Wicker, 75, said. “We’re really improving under the circumstances.”
The area around the Wicker home, and the properties next door, has been fenced off.
The houses next door at 238 and 242 Faithway Drive have not yet been condemned, but the owners will likely never return home, Hillsborough County spokesman Willie Puz said.
The future of the properties is uncertain, but the families still own the land, Puz said. Engineers continue to run tests on the soil to check if the ground is stable, he said.
Local charities have helped with living arrangements, clothing and other items for the Wickers and Bushes. The county is paying for hotel rooms for Wicker’s next-door neighbors, Jeff Allen and Lisa Jaudon.
Wicker said he doesn’t yet have an answer to what will happen to his property. Jeremy Bush had said he would like to see a memorial on the site one day.
Wicker said engineers have told him the ground is still unstable and said he’ll probably build a house elsewhere.
“I wouldn’t trust in putting my family there another night,” he said. “It would scare me to lay my head down and try to get some sleep.”
Wicker said he feels empathy for others in the neighborhood, who would find it difficult to move or sell their homes because of the sinkhole and the effect it has had on nearby property values.
“I feel sorry that it had to happen and it happened in my place,” he said.
Allen, who used to live at 238 Faithway Drive with his fiancé, Crystal, and an adult son, said losing his home and living in a hotel has been surreal.
Allen had just remodeled the master bedroom and installed new tile and plumbing when the sinkhole opened next door. The couple also was in the midst of planning their wedding.
“We had planned on staying there for a substantial amount of time,” said Allen, 40, who bought the house 11 years ago. “Crystal and I have invested a lot of time and money in our house.”
What happened to his home is considered a catastrophic loss, Allen said, and his insurance will cover it.
But he said he’ll never go back there again and will look for a new house once the engineers’ tests and the paperwork for his insurance is completed.
“As far as buying a home, emotionally, that’s not where we need to be right now,” Allen said. “We’ll probably be renting for a year or so, just getting back to normal and becoming whole as a family again.”
Jaudon, who lived at 242 Faithway Drive with three adult children, said she, too, is waiting for the test results to be completed and contemplating her next steps.
“Although the immediate crisis is over, we’re still living in limbo,” Jaudon, 54, said. “We’re still trying to figure things out.”
Jaudon said her insurance is covering her losses and that she doesn’t blame the county for her current living situation. County officials, she said, have been helpful and accommodating in her time of crisis.
She said she returned to her old neighborhood last week, just to see what happened in the aftermath of the sinkhole.
Neighbors told her about 20 people had visited that day, stopping in front of Wicker’s property and taking photos with their cell phones before driving off.
Jaudon said she joked with neighbors about setting up checkpoints on both ends of the street and charging a toll for strangers who want to take a peek at the sinkhole site.
“Gawkers are still driving through,” she said. “We’re still getting a few spectators.”
Like Allen, Jaudon is planning on finding a new home in Hillsborough.
“We will stay in the area,” Jaudon said, “and hopefully find a place with no sinkholes.”