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Woman recovering after falling into open manhole

Worker had left cover off while putting away his gear

SHARE Woman recovering after falling into open manhole
Unified Authority firefighters work to rescue Irene Berrett, who fell 17 feet into a manhole near a grocery store in Draper.

Unified Authority firefighters work to rescue Irene Berrett, who fell 17 feet into a manhole near a grocery store in Draper.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News

DRAPER — A 71-year-old woman walked into an open manhole Tuesday, falling 17 feet before landing in 6 to 8 inches of water and sewage where she lay for an hour before she could be rescued.

The woman suffered a compound leg fracture and cuts and bruises, according to friends. But rescuers said with everything taken into consideration, she made out remarkably well.

"I am surprised, to be honest with you," Unified Fire Authority Capt. Dee Putnam said. "It's incredible."

Irene Berrett was walking out of Albertsons, 1212 Draper Parkway (12300 South), and back to her car shortly before 11 a.m. when she apparently didn't notice a manhole that had been left uncovered.

A septic tank worker had just finished cleaning the area below the manhole, Draper Police Sgt. Scott Peck said. The manhole is used to access a grease sump from a nearby deli. The man had talked to Berrett both before and after she went into the store.

Berrett reportedly asked if she was in his way after she parked her car, and she even saw the tube being used to vacuum out the grease and sewage, Peck said.

The worker was about 10 feet from the hole when he turned his back to finish putting things away, apparently never imagining Berrett wouldn't see the open manhole, he said.

"To him it was really obvious the hole was open," Peck said.

But when he turned around he saw keys lying next to the uncovered hole and then he heard a woman calling for help.

Peter Larkin, Berrett's LDS bishop, was one of the first people on the scene after crews from the Unified Fire Authority and police were called. He called Berrett a very fit and mentally alert woman, which was apparent when he called down in the hole to see if she was OK.

"She said, 'Bishop, would you tell them to get me out of here?' She's a very tough girl," Larkin said.

The UFA's heavy rescue team put on oxygen masks because of the sewage smell and then pumped hot air into the hole to try to keep her warm. After setting up a large tripod over the hole, rescuers were lowered into the hole, where they hooked the woman to a harness and pulled her out.

Berrett had blood on her face and her body was soaking wet after they pulled her out. Paramedics standing by kept her legs elevated as they loaded her into an ambulance and then drove her to a medical helicopter waiting nearby.

"The paramedics said she was doing quite well," Larkin said. "At first they thought there might be some internal injuries, but they couldn't find any."

Larkin said the broken leg was an ugly injury and Berrett suffered some hypothermia but otherwise was all right.

She was listed in serious condition at LDS Hospital Tuesday afternoon, hospital spokesman Jess Gomez said. She was being evaluated for her leg injury but was conscious and talking to the medical team.

"She's in fairly good spirits, given all that has happened to her," Gomez said.

Peck said no laws were broken and the septic cleaner would not be charged criminally. He noted, however, it might have been more prudent of him to put up a cone or some type of warning that the manhole was uncovered and leave it there until he was finished.

The worker was "really torn up" over what happened, Peck said.


E-mail: preavy@desnews.com