Neighbors Help Pull Fallen Worker From 40-Foot Hole


Some neighbors, a passer-by and a cushion of water helped save the life of a bulldozer operator who fell into a 40-foot-deep hole Wednesday at a construction site on Capistrano Beach.

Edward Stinson, 35, of Costa Mesa clung to the sides of the muddy pit, keeping afloat in water collected at the bottom and yelling for help. He had been lifting a piece of plywood out of the way of his bulldozer before he fell, said Orange County Fire Department Capt. Dan Young. The hole had been dug to hold concrete pylons for a house to be built on the lot.

Almost immediately, his partner, Mark Gonsalves, heard the cries and shouted for help. Within minutes, a passing motorist and four neighbors--one carrying 200 feet of rope--ran to the rescue and pulled the man to safety about 12:45 p.m. Stinson was taken to Samaritan Medical Center of San Clemente, where he was treated and released, hospital officials said.

Young said his superiors were recommending the neighbors for commendation for their efforts to save Stinson.

"They had to overcome their fear to get this guy out," Young said. "It's encouraging to see people not just get involved but overcome their fear to help."

The ordeal started when Stinson was driving his bulldozer on a vacant lot at 35171 Camino Capistrano on Capistrano Beach, inspecting the area he would be grading to make way for a new oceanfront home. When he got off his bulldozer to remove a piece of plywood that was in his way, he slipped into the hole.

There was about 10 feet of water in the bottom of the 3-foot-wide hole, Young said. Eleven other holes have been dug on the property.

"The water probably saved his life," Young said, adding that several other holes paramedics checked didn't have any water in them. "It probably kept him from getting killed. But then it became his worst enemy. The first 10 seconds, 'Thank God it was there.' Then after that, 'Oh my God.' "

Young and neighbors said Stinson kept his head above the water by gripping the muddy sides. He suffered minor scratches and bruises.

Neighbor Mel Chaitlin, 63, was in his dining room, perusing a newspaper's real estate section, tuning out the everyday voices of construction workers and the hums of their tractors next door. All of a sudden, the tone and pitch of the voices changed dramatically, he said, and neighbors on all sides of the vacant lot ran to their windows to see what was happening.

"You figure you better get out there fast, you might be able to help," Chaitlin said from his home across the street from the construction site.

Chaitlin, his wife, two other neighbors, two construction workers and a San Diego Gas & Electric employee who was driving by pulled Stinson out of the hole.

A County Fire Department ambulance and fire rescue truck arrived to take Stinson to the hospital.

"I can't say it was fun but it was a fabulous feeling to help save a life," Chaitlin said, adding that he didn't even get a chance to talk to Stinson.

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