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Crush of dirt led to death in ditch

A trench cave-in broke a plumber's ribs and pelvis, leading to cardiac arrest during a rescue effort, an examiner says.

Published May 14, 2005

PINELLAS PARK - The plumber killed in a trench accident Thursday died from blunt trauma caused by the heavy, fast-moving wall of dirt that collapsed on him, the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office said Friday.

The force broke Charles "Mike" Morrison's ribs and fractured his pelvis, setting the stage for the cardiac arrest he suffered as workers tried to free him from the 15-foot-deep trench behind Intrepid Powerboats Inc. on Belcher Road.

Bill Pellan, the medical examiner's director of investigations, said cardiac arrest could have been brought on by various factors, including internal hemorrhaging and shock.

Morrison's family said Friday they were devastated by the death and attributed it to "other people's negligence."

"This was preventable," said Morrison's stepdaughter, Jennifer Butson, 24. "What we're just not understanding is how was this man placed in such a dangerous situation?"

Several authorities at the scene said there was little or no sign the trench had been shored up, as required by federal law. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating.

B&B Professional Plumbing, the Clearwater company Morrison worked for, has spoken with federal investigators but declined Friday to discuss the circumstances with the Times.

Records show the company in 2001 paid $1,500 in fines to OSHA after being cited for safety violations, including not protecting an electrical cord running to a storage trailer and because "most employees" were not wearing hard hats at a construction site for a Kash n' Karry in Odessa.

B&B was a subcontractor at that job for Wichman Construction of Tampa - the same company that used B&B for the work at Intrepid Powerboats. The plumbing company had been installing sewer lines this week.

B&B, and perhaps even Wichman Construction, could face steep fines for the trench accident. This month, for example, OSHA announced $84,700 in fines for a Gainesville, Ga., construction company because of a trench collapse in November that trapped an employee, who survived.

Morrison, who lived in St. Petersburg, had worked for B&B for about a year. "He wanted to go to every end to make them happy," Butson said.

She said the family did not care to discuss possible legal action. "We've lost our father. Our mother has lost her soul mate. We can only pray that she is going to be able to survive this."

Morrison, 48, married his wife, Laura, in 2003, though they had been together for more than a decade. He has three other stepdaughters, ages 26, 30 and 31.

Butson said Morrison, who had back problems, liked to exercise by taking walks through nature parks and could always identify different bird species. On Mother's Day in the past he took the girls to get flowers for their mother.

Each morning Laura Morrison would pack a note with her husband's lunch: "I love you." "You're the best." "You're No. 1." The notes brought ribbing from the guys at work but Morrison didn't mind. He would call his wife on his cell phone during lunch.

Thursday morning she made him a roast beef sandwich and put it along with a bag of Cheetos, peanut butter crackers and a bottle of Gatorade. "He never got to eat it," Butson said. The accident happened just before 8 a.m. and Morrison was pronounced dead an hour later.

Morrison, who grew up in the Seminole area, had diverse interests. He watched NASCAR and maintained a flower garden. He could quote from John Wayne movies and liked Jeopardy and Dr. Phil.

"He was a tough guy," his stepdaughter said, "but he was a big sweetheart, too, who loved his family."

Alex Leary can be reached at 893-8472 or

[Last modified May 14, 2005, 01:15:50]

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