Contractor was completing 'urgent' work on Baltimore City pool when trench collapse killed worker

The contractor working in Northeast Baltimore when a 20-year-old man was killed in a trench collapse last week was completing “urgent” repairs to a drainage line running from a city pool.

City officials have repeatedly declined to provide details about the sewer work that R.F. Warder Inc. was performing when the 15-foot trench caved in, killing Kyle Hancock of Glen Burnie. But a work order obtained by The Baltimore Sun shows that a city recreation official requested that workers clear the line at the Clifton Park Pool and marked the job “urgent.” The pool is scheduled to open for summer on June 23.

The order shows that on May 16, a Department of Recreation and Parks official requested a contractor to blast through a clog in the line. A city official assigned the job to R.F. Warder on May 29.

A crew from the company was attempting to clear the line on June 5 when the trench collapsed. Maryland Occupational Safety and Health is investigating. Their probe is expected to take several weeks.

Company representatives have declined to comment since Hancock’s death.

Erin Sher Smyth, the city’s purchasing agent, said officials will give state investigators a CD of documents related to the company’s work with the city.

Fire officials have said the trench in the 2000 block of Sinclair Lane had no protective shoring. A federal law requires protection for workers in trenches more than five feet deep.

Rescue personnel removed two other workers who were trying to dig the 20-year-old out. Rescuers dug more than 20 feet down to retrieve Hancock’s body during a 10-hour recovery effort.

Smyth wrote to contractor Robert F. Warder Jr. that initial reports of the incident indicated that Hancock’s death resulted from the company’s “failure to comply with safety requirements relating to trenching.”

The city has suspended all work with R.F. Warder Inc., citing “life safety concerns,” Smyth wrote, and the city will examine the company’s “apparent breach” of its contract.

The suspension affects two contracts authorizing R.F. Warder to maintain chilled water systems, sewer lines and heating systems.

Roger E. Hartley, dean of the College of Public Affairs at the University of Baltimore, said large, ongoing contracts such as R.F. Warder’s raise the question of how closely government officials monitor the work that is done. Government agencies in Washington and across the country are increasingly outsourcing work to private contractors. Often, Hartley said, the contractors are asked to follow guidelines and self-report the outcomes.

“You have to have measures in place to scrutinize and monitor them,” Hartley said. “You’ve given them the opportunity to do a lot of work for you. You have to make sure the accountability is there.”

The city will examine whether any city employee had a role in the incident, witnessed it, or was at the scene of the work, City Solicitor Andre M. Davis said.

Experts in workplace compliance and trench work have said that state investigators will try to determine whether there was an R.F. Warder employee at the site who knew the relevant safety regulations, could identify hazards and had the authority to correct any hazards, as federal regulations require.

The state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled Hancock's death an accident.

His funeral service was held on Sunday. More than $1,800 has been raised over two days via a GoFundMe website to cover the cost of Hancock’s funeral and other expenses.

Baltimore Sun reporter Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article.

nbogelburroughs@baltsun.com

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