tbo: Tampa Bay Online.
Sunday, May 20, 2018
  • Home
News Roundup

House over sinkhole demolished

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 the infamous 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 effect 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. Hamlyn's husband said he thinks his home's property value could decline, but won't know until it gets 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 have already visited the neighborhood, he said. Hamlyn, who lives two blocks away from where Bush died, said a man knocked on his door over the weekend asking him whether he had sinkhole insurance. The Hamlyns also received mailers on Saturday advertising sinkhole coverage. "They work fast," Hamlyn said. Bush, 37, disappeared into the hole that opened inside his bedroom about 11 p.m. Thursday, authorities said. His brother, Jeremy, 35, 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 on Saturday, and 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 the house was completely torn down 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 had opened under the eastern wall of Jeff Bush's bedroom, taking his mattress, dresser and television set into the ground. "That's the hole I jumped in," Jeremy Bush said, referring to the 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 ever be found. "I really believe that's where he's going to stay," Bush said. "That's his resting place." Maybe someday, 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," Jeremy 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 once in Bush's bedroom, Bibles, some china, photographs and two antique 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 still 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," Puz said.

[email protected] (813) 259-7920 Twitter: @TBORay
Weather Center