Do you remember the two workers who drowned in Paso Robles inside the Nacimiento Water Project pipeline? It happened on the evening of Oct. 2, 2008, as pipe was being laid in South River Road where it crosses Niblick Road near Albertsons and Walmart.
Those men haven’t been forgotten. I’m pleased to report county officials still plan to erect a monument to them. The man in charge is Paavo Ogren, county director of public works and transportation. I called his office Monday and was told he’s working on scheduling a meeting this month with the men’s families and the pipeline contractor.
The pipeline is this county’s biggest public works project. We customarily decorate big projects with bronze plaques naming the contractors and engineers and the public officials in office at the time. The workers who actually do the construction are usually forgotten.
I confess I forgot the two men’s names. They died not far from my house but I had to look them up: Jacob Gaines, 24, of Bakersfield and Manuel Villagomez, 38, of Elk Grove. Their names belong on a permanent monument.
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On that tragic evening, they were crawling inside the 30-inch-diameter pipe. My dining-room table is 30 inches high. Imagine working under it and closed in. They were removing wooden braces that had reinforced the pipe while fill-dirt was tamped down on it.
An excavating machine was digging nearby. It broke an 8-inch city water main. After the water was shut off and pumped from the trench, rescuers crawled in. They went 35 feet before finding the first body. The second was 70 feet in.
The pipeline is now covered, paved over and forgotten. The contractor, Teichert Construction of Sacramento, agreed to pay $3 million in penalties. Teichert also gave undisclosed sums to the men’s families. CAL/OSHA also fined Teichert $140,000; Teichert appealed.
Mourners had created a makeshift memorial on a steep bank at the intersection. Today, it’s a small patch of plastic litter. The permanent monument belongs at that intersection, but on level land. It should also include the name of Timothy Nelson, 29, of Ojai. He died while working on the pipeline the following August in a dump-truck accident.
Level land at the intersection for the monument might be found at the ARCO station, if ARCO and the shopping center would offer to donate it.
Reach Phil Dirkx at email@example.com or 238-2372.