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Sinkhole that swallowed man in Seffner reopens

SEFFNER — Residents of this Seffner neighborhood have seen it before.

The same sinkhole that swallowed Jeff Bush, 36, two years ago reopened Wednesday morning, creating a disturbing case of déjà vu for people living nearby. But if there is any solace to be found inside the double-fenced plot of land surrounding the hole, it is that no one was killed this time and no homes were destroyed.

Hillsborough County spokeswoman Michelle Van Dyke said a woman was walking her dog near the site around 9 a.m. when she heard a loud “boom.” The woman called 911, she said, and a crew was dispatched immediately.

“It was obvious that the sinkhole had reopened in the same location,” she said.

When the county’s Parks and Recreation Department took control of the property after the previous sinkhole, Van Dyke said, it demolished the two houses next to the one where Bush died and deemed the site unfit for future homes.

Because the ground around a sinkhole can continue to be unstable even after repairs are made, it is not uncommon to see them reoccur, said Ron Spiller, county code enforcement managing director.

“What happened wasn’t expected but is not uncommon because of the repair that was done previously,” Spiller said. “The design of the mediation was to minimize any location failure, and the design did exactly what it was supposed to do: collapse at the same location.”

The county is assessing how to fill and stabilize the 17-foot-diameter, 20-foot-deep sinkhole, Van Dyke said.

In the meantime, she said, the Parks and Recreation department will install larger gates on the surrounding fences so work trucks can access the area.

Ed Siersema, a Florida geologist of more than 31 years, said he thinks recent heavy rains caused the sinkhole to re-emerge. He said Seffner is a prime location for sinkholes because it sits atop layers of sand, thin clay and limestone.

“The acidic rain water ... will dissolve the limestone over time and you’ll have holes and caverns that develop,” he said. “When you make water move, it causes things to move and you get sinkholes.”

Two sinkholes in less than three years has some neighborhood residents thinking it might be time to move.

“I’m more afraid that something was gonna happen this time than the other one because of the fact that it reopened,” said Anna Hernandez, who has owned a house in the neighborhood for 15 years.

Eric Bethea, who rents a home, said he found out about the first hole after he moved to the neighborhood.

“You have to be mindful that it could happen in your own yard,” he said.

But Lou Jones, who has lived in the neighborhood for about 33 years, said “sinkholes are sinkholes.”

“That’s a low spot right there, and that’s where all the water runs,” Jones said.

Bush, a landscaper, was swallowed by the first, 50-foot-deep sinkhole when it opened up under the bed where he slept just after 11 p.m. on Feb. 28, 2013.

Despite efforts by his brother, Jeremy, to save him, Bush disappeared into the cascading soil. Rescue workers were unable to retrieve his body.

Leland Wicker, the homeowner, was at his second home in Topton, N.C., that night. He said his oldest son and youngest daughter were staying there that night.

“I lived there for 40 years, and (Jeff Bush) was just a guest in the house,” he said. “I feel sorry the guy lost his life. It’s just one of those situations.”

Wicker, who now lives in Palm Beach County, said he also is concerned for the people in the neighborhood.

“I just feel sorry about the situation,” he said. “I feel sorry for the people in the subdivision. I feel bad that it had to happen and keeps on happening in Florida.”

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