Construction Worker Dies in Orange When Swimming Pool Hole Collapses

December 21, 2020 Updated: December 21, 2020

Firefighters have recovered the body of a construction worker who died when a wall of dirt collapsed and buried him while he was excavating a backyard swimming pool site in the City of Orange, California.

Sgt. Dennis Breckner of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department identified the victim as Luciano Gonzalez Munoz. Breckner told The Epoch Times that Munoz, 45, was a resident of Puebla, Mexico.

Munoz was part of a construction team digging the hole on Dec. 19 when a wall of soil piled on top of the hole collapsed on top of him around 10:52 a.m., covering him up to his neck and rendering him immobile. A second wall collapsed into the hole soon after, burying him and causing his death.

“There was a primary collapse and then a secondary collapse,” Rosie Flores, the City of Orange Fire Department’s public information officer, told The Epoch Times.

“[The first collapse] trapped him basically to the neck, so it did not bury him at that point. The secondary collapse is the one that buried him,” Flores said.

Munoz was part of a five-man construction crew digging the pool for a cliffside residence in Orange, located in the 6200 block of Cliffway Drive. After the first wall collapsed, Munoz’s co-workers used a construction crane to lower a protective steel cage into the 9-foot- to 10-foot-deep hole to prevent further soil collapse.

Firefighters then arrived, lowered themselves into the hole with ropes, and began trying to free the victim by clearing away the dirt. But after nearly 30 minutes, another wall collapsed, burying the victim completely.

At that point, firefighters were no longer able to communicate with Munoz. They continued to try to rescue the trapped man for another two hours, when the rescue mission became a recovery operation.

Epoch Times Photo
The site of a swimming pool excavation where a worker was killed when a wall of dirt collapsed in the City of Orange, Calif., on Dec. 19, 2020. (Courtesy of the City of Orange Fire Department)
Epoch Times Photo
Workers stand over a hole where a man was killed when a wall of dirt buried him in the City of Orange, Calif., on Dec. 19, 2020. (Courtesy of the City of Orange Fire Department)

Around 60 firefighters from the Orange, Anaheim, and Huntington Beach fire departments, the City of Orange Public Works Department, the City of Orange Water Department, the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA), and the Urban Search and Rescue California Task Force arrived on scene to assist with efforts to save the victim.

Authorities recovered the victim’s body with the help of a construction crane around 24 hours later, around 11:20 a.m. on Dec. 20, when the county coroner was contacted.

Breckner said the victim’s official cause of death remains unknown. “It’s pending examination,” he said.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) has launched a formal investigation into the death because the incident took place at a construction site. Cal/OSHA will look into whether the dirt removed from the excavation site was placed too close to the hole, creating a workplace hazard because it could potentially fall back in.

If the victim’s employer did not properly assess the site, protect, and train the workers, the employer could be held liable.