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Boy Suffocates When Backyard Tunnel He and Friends Dug Up Collapses

January 22, 1985

OCOEE, Fla. (AP) _ Rescue workers were so close to a boy partially buried in a backyard tunnel that they could touch and talk to him, but the child suffocated when the hole caved in again, officials said.

Eleven-year-old Clay Eugene Carpenter Jr. was declared dead Monday evening after paramedics rushed him to a hospital after he failed to respond to cardio-pulmonary resuscitation.

″We lost him,″ said fire Lt. Alba Hall.″We had his head uncovered, we were talking to him, but the sand kept caving in on us.″

Clay, who neighbors said was nicknamed ″CJ,″ had been playing in the back yard of Billy Watring’s home in this Orlando suburb, said Billy’s father, Herbert Watring.

Clay and Billy, also 11, and another friend, Kenny Moss, were digging a hole in Billy’s backyard just before Watring left the house Monday morning, the father said.

″They had a hole dug out by the utility shed about a foot deep this morning,″ Watring said. ″I told them, ‘Don’t do that, it’s dangerous.’ I told them to go along and play somewhere else, and I thought they went over to Kenny’s house to play.″

″I guess they must have come back in the afternoon, and started digging again,″ Watring said. ″You know how boys are.″

When he returned home Monday evening, ″Everybody, the fire department and all, were here,″ Watring said.

When firefighters arrived, Clay was buried under about 8 feet of sand, said Hall.

″I don’t know how they were able to dig as far as they did without it caving in,″ Hall said. ″It’s that real powdery sugar sand.″

Clay was in the lower, horizontal portion of the L-shaped tunnel when it collapsed, said Hall.

Hall and another firefighter dug down to where Clay was, uncovered his head and were able to talk to him.

″He was breathing, and he would talk to us,″ Hall said. ″But the sand kept caving in ... We’d get his head uncovered, then before we could get him out it would cave in again.″

Hall said he and another firefighter were themselves briefly buried in several cave-ins. About 50 minutes after they had arrived, Clay was no longer breathing after they dug back to him, said Hall. When the boy was dug out of the hole, he had no pulse.

″The hole must have been six or seven feet deep,″ Watring said. ″I don’t know how they did it. It’s just a terrible thing.″

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