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    Worker injured by fallen machine

    Quick-thinking coworkers keep the man's head above water and get the backhoe loader off him.

    By RICHARD DANIELSON, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published October 30, 2002

    PALM HARBOR -- A construction worker was seriously injured late Tuesday morning when a backhoe loader slipped down an embankment on top of him, but he was pulled from under the machine by quick-thinking coworkers.

    The worker, whose name was not available, was a 22- or 23-year-old man from Lakeland, authorities said.

    He was part of a construction crew that was shoring up a drainage ditch behind the Crossroads Chapel near Tampa Road and Alt. U.S. 19 N, when the backhoe loader lost its footing at the edge of the ditch and slid down the bank, said Palm Harbor firefighter/paramedic Kevin Ratzmann.

    The worker was standing in the bottom of the ditch, which was about 8 to 10 feet deep but held only a few feet of water.

    "It happened too quick," foreman James Walton said. "It just backed off the hill and it got him."

    Walton said the man ended up under the rear wheels of the 7-ton backhoe loader. Walton jumped from the seat of the machine and held the man's head above water until two coworkers came over to take his place. Then he used the backhoe's hydraulic stabilizers to lift the machine off the worker.

    By the time Palm Harbor Fire Rescue paramedics arrived, colleagues had taken the man out of the ditch and put him on a wooden platform. Equipment operator Fred Allen said the man's left leg was obviously broken, but otherwise he was awake and talking.

    He was flown to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg with what authorities said were nonlife-threatening injuries.

    Palm Harbor rescue officials said getting the backhoe's weight off the worker was a good thing.

    "By putting the outriggers out to lift the machinery off of him . . . he was on the right track," firefighter/paramedic Doug Zimmerman said.

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