Worker hurt at Patrick estate

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Before emergency personnel responded, John Wheeler's co-workers had dug him out and brought him to safety, according to the town's fire chief.

The collapse buried Wheeler in dirt up to his chest, Chief David Morrison said.

"It was the happiest sight of my day when I saw him being comforted by his co-workers," Morrison said. Emergency officials got a calling reporting the incident at 11:55 a.m.

Wheeler sustained serious knee and ankle injuries and also complained of chest and back pain, Morrison said. His injuries were not life-threatening.

Wheeler was transported by a town ambulance from Patrick's property at 245 Furnace Road to Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield nearly 13 miles away.

Late yesterday afternoon, a nurse supervisor said Wheeler was in the hospital, but would only say that his condition was stable.

In Boston yesterday, Patrick was informed of the incident.

"The governor has called the man to wish him a speedy recovery," said Cynthia Roy, the governor's spokeswoman.

Wheeler was a member of a crew digging a fire pond for Patrick's Richmond home. The pond was being excavated at the request of Patrick's insurance company, and Wheeler was working alone on a trench for a hydrant, according to Morrison.

The fire chief described the soil as "Richmond's famous hardpan — a clay-like soil that's very, very hard."

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The trench Wheeler was standing in was "a good five feet" deep, Morrison said.

Guidelines set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration require a protective wall system for trenches that are five feet or deeper. It could not be confirmed last night if OSHA was notified, or if the depth of the trench was an issue.

Richmond Zoning Officer Craig Swinson, who went to investigate the site yesterday afternoon, said the work did not require zoning permits. The town's building inspector was also called to the scene, Swinson said.

Swinson also notified the town's Conservation Commission in case there was any issue with wetlands or permits. Holly Stover, chairwoman of the Commission, said Town Administrator Bruce Garlow would contact the governor's office on Monday to coordinate a site visit to review the work.

A spokesperson for the state's Department of Environmental Protection said the DEP had no records of permits for the site and could not say if permits were required for the work.

Patrick and his wife, Diane, bought a 77-acre parcel in Richmond's Furnace District in 2002 for $472,500.

In 2005, they acquired a neighboring parcel for $775,000 that included a house, guest house and a barn.

In June, the Patricks sold the latter 14-acre parcel to Garrett and Mary Moran of Greenwich, Conn., for $1 million.

According to Eagle files, Patrick previously received permission from the town's Zoning Board of Appeals to create a 10-acre subdivision for another house on the 77-acre lot; no known plans have been given.

Members of the fire department, Richmond EMS and an American Medical Response life support team also responded to the incident.

Eagle staff writer Jack Dew contributed to this story.


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