First responders in September responded to the Sexton Cove neighborhood in Key Largo to treat a man who was unconscious in a storm drain, Monroe County 911 dispatch records show.
That’s the same neighborhood where three utility workers on a county contract were found dead, 15 feet inside a storm drain, after being overcome by noxious gases in January.
The location of the Sept. 6 call was blacked out in the report provided by the county’s Central Records department, but Key Largo Volunteer Fire Department Chief Don Bock confirmed the Key Largo Ambulance Corps was sent that day to treat a man at Largo Road, which is in Sexton Cove.
The man was out of the storm drain by the time the ambulance arrived and refused to be taken to the hospital, Bock said.
Bock did not know if the man was working when he was in the area.
According to the 911 report, dispatchers received a call at 2:11 p.m. Sept. 6 that a man was “passed out in a storm drain.” He was described as being in his 20s, unconscious but breathing. The Ambulance Corps sent a crew from its mile marker 98 headquarters, and the fire department sent a truck as backup from Station 25 at mile marker 99. Sexton Cove is on the bayside off U.S. 1 at mile marker 106.
A few streets over, on Jan. 16, four workers with D.N. Higgins, a Michigan-based company hired by the county in 2015 for $3.1 million to do road-improvement work in Sexton Cove, also passed out when they entered a storm drain.
Only one made it out of the hole alive, and a Key Largo firefighter nearly lost his life trying to save the men that morning.
Steve W. Cornman, an attorney retained by D.N. Higgins, did not return an email asking if the man in the Sept. 6 incident was an employee of the Higgins company.
The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration and the county Medical Examiner continue to investigate the January deaths. Litigation against D.N. Higgins from at least some of the victims’ families is likely. The wife of Robert Wilson, 24, a Summerland Key resident who died Jan. 16, hired attorney Marc Lyon in late January.
Lyon, who called Wilson’s death “preventable,” expects to file a wrongful-death suit against D.N. Higgins once all the investigations are completed, he said Thursday.
Miami-Dade Fire-Rescue hazardous-material crews, who were called in to help Keys first responders Jan. 16, determined the unventilated hole was filled with hydrogen sulfide and methane.
Neil Lipski, a mine-rescue expert based in Wisconsin, said this could have created two scenarios — or a combination thereof. Hydrogen sulfide is poisonous, and that could have killed the men. Or gases in the hole may have been at a high concentration that pushed out needed oxygen, causing the men to suffocate.
Firefighter Leonardo Moreno went into the hole without his air pack because he couldn’t fit through the entrance with the tank strapped on his back. He passed out almost immediately. A colleague was able to fit through with his pack and rescued Moreno, who was alive but severely sickened. Doctors initially put Moreno into an induced coma. Within days, he had recovered enough to be released from the hospital.
Leon is waiting for one final medical test scheduled for this month before he can be cleared to return to duty, Bock said.
David Goodhue: 305-440-3204