A 50-year-old sand mine worker was killed Friday afternoon in East Quogue after the large pile of soil he was standing on collapsed beneath him, burying him under several feet of dirt and mulch.
Declan Boland of Riverhead, a longtime employee of East Coast Mines Ltd., off Lewis Road, was on his way to help co-workers tend to a smoldering mulch fire atop a steep bank at around 1:35 p.m. on February 28 when the ground suddenly gave way beneath him, according to witnesses and the Southampton Town Police Department.
Other employees of the sand mine and volunteers with the East Quogue Fire Department used hand shovels and heavy equipment to dig out Mr. Boland, who they estimated was buried for at least 15 minutes before they managed to locate him shortly before 2 p.m. Police said Mr. Boland was buried beneath 6 to 8 feet of dirt and unconscious when rescuers found him.
The husband and father of three was transported by East Quogue ambulance to the Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, where he was pronounced dead, according to authorities.
No other employees were injured.
Carrie Tintle, an office manager at East Coast Mines, said Monday that Mr. Boland had worked as the head mechanic at the sand mine since 1987.
Her stepson John Tintle currently owns the mine, which was previously owned by her late husband, William Tintle.
“We’re going to miss him more than you can possibly imagine,” she said, adding that he was a “wonderful” man who was well-liked among his co-workers.
Ms. Tintle also called the incident a “freak accident,” and said another employee was near Mr. Boland when the bank collapsed, though that man was unharmed. “We’ve been here since 1972, and we’ve never had this happen before,” she said.
The victim’s family declined to comment when a reporter knocked on the door of their Riverhead home on Monday.
The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is also investigating the fatal accident, according to Amy Louviere, a spokesperson for the agency, though she said it could take weeks, if not months, for officials to complete their examination and issue a report.
“The investigators will interview witnesses, examine equipment, draw physical evidence from the accident site and develop a chronology of events that led up to the accident,” she wrote in an email. “They will then put together a detailed report, which will include any enforcement actions taken against the mine operator for violation of health or safety standards. Monetary penalties for any citations that are issued will be assessed at a later date.”
Last December, a 53-year-old worker in Junction City, Georgia, was killed in a similar accident when the 27-foot-tall bank he was standing on collapsed, burying him under sand and dirt, according to the MSHA, which issues reports on all fatal mining accidents.
MSHA records show that the East Quogue mine has been cited 17 times, and its owners fined more than $2,000, since 2011 for various violations of federal mine regulations. Those violations ranged from the mostly innocuous, such as not labeling power switches, to the more serious, including issues with the maintenance of machinery and the installation and maintenance of guardrails near steep slopes.
Friday’s fatal accident was the first such incident at the East Quogue mine in its 42-year history, according to MSHA records.
The federal website also recommends that mine companies train workers to recognize conditions that could decrease bank or slope stability. It also states that those companies should evaluate bank and slope conditions daily, paying special attention after each rain, freeze or thaw.
Town Police and MSHA officials have not speculated as to what could have caused Friday’s accident.
The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department also responded to the scene with a K-9 unit, and they were joined by volunteers with the Westhampton War Memorial Ambulance and Hampton Bays Fire Department.
The Tintles also own Sand Land, otherwise known as Wainscott Sand & Gravel, a sand mining and gravel grinding operation in Bridgehampton that has been embroiled in lawsuits regarding the legality of its practice of filling in pits with mulch. In July 2012, the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals ruled that the mulching aspect of the business was not permitted under its certificate of occupancy. Last month, a Suffolk County Supreme Court justice annulled the ZBA decision and ruled that the owners could process and sell mulch.
Neighbors of that facility, including Robert Rubin, the owner of the adjacent Bridge Golf Club, have said the mulching operating is damaging to the environment and groundwater. Mr. Rubin said he plans to fund an appeal of the decision.
Southampton Town Planner Clare Vail explained Tuesday that the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation oversees mining operations and issues their permits. The town, she said, does not have that authority.
The DEC confirmed that they were investigating the Bridgehampton site, but officials could not be reached for comment this week regarding the operations at East Coast Mines.
Mr. Boland is survived by his wife, Ashlee; three children, Renee, Anthony and Liam; and four brothers, Aidan, Jerard, David and Thomas.
The family held visitation at the Reginald H. Tuthill Funeral Home in Riverhead on Tuesday, March 4, and a funeral mass was celebrated on Wednesday, March 5, at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Riverhead. Interment followed at St. John’s Cemetery in Riverhead.