A construction worker has been killed in a cave-in at the bridge at U.S. Hwy. 27/441 in Lady Lake.
The accident occurred Wednesday afternoon when the worker, who reportedly was operating a Bobcat-style piece of equipment, ran into an obstruction and climbed down into a hole to investigate. A retaining wall caved in on top of him. He was soon buried in rubble.
Numerous firetrucks and emergency personnel were summoned to the scene, and a frantic effort began to try to unearth the trapped worker. The Villages Public Safety Department joined in the effort to rescue the worker.
The Florida Urban Search and Rescue team quickly positioned its members on the bridge in the rescue effort.
However, by about 6 p.m. the rescue effort officially shifted to the grim task of recovering the body of the construction worker, who was presumed dead.
The Medical Examiner’s Office arrived on the scene at about 6:30 p.m. A large septic-type truck was also at the site. Witnesses said it appeared the septic unit was being used to suck out dirt and water from the hole as part of the recovery effort.
“This is a terrible tragedy,” said Lady Lake Mayor James Rietz. “We feel terrible for the family and his loved ones.”
The mayor was still processing the tragic event Wednesday evening and was monitoring the situation along with Lady Lake Police Chief Robert Tempsta.
Traffic had come to a standstill on U.S. Hwy. 27/441 and cars were backed up far beyond the site of the accident.
The contractor for the project is Southland Construction Inc., but it is not known if the worker was a Southland employee or a subcontractor. His identity had not been made public Wednesday evening.
Southland representatives and Florida Department of Transportation officials recently met at Water Oak on U.S. Hwy. 27/441 with Lady Lake Commissioner Ed Freeman, a resident of the 55+ community. Water Oakers have been concerned about traffic issues in the area. Freeman described the Southland and FDOT representatives as receptive to the concerns which had been raised.
He was watching from his home in Water Oak on Wednesday as the emergency personnel arrived on the scene.
“It appears this was just a horrible accident,” Freeman said.
The Florida Department of Transportation is widening U.S. Hwy. 27/441 between Lake Ella Road and Avenida Central (at Griffin Avenue) in The Villages. Both northbound and southbound U.S. Hwy. 441 will be expanded to three lanes in this 4.157 mile, three-year project.
The $45 million widening project is scheduled to continue through 2023.