Community Rallies As Seffner Sinkhole Tragedy Gets National Attention

By Tamas Mondovics

Sinkholes in Florida, especially in Hillsborough County and more specifically in the north Brandon and Seffner communities, are nothing new; they are in fact quite common.

However, the massive sinkhole measuring close to 30 ft. across at the top and much more below the surface, which swallowed a Seffner man in his bedroom late last month, prompted area residents, government officials, engineers, rescue teams as well as law enforcement personnel near and far to get up close and personal with the reality and dangers that lurk beneath the ground.

The sinkhole formed at 240 Faithway Dr. and claimed one of the rear bedrooms as well as the life of  37-year-old Jeff Bush, who was in the room at the time.

Holding back tears while describing the scene, Jeff’s brother, Jeremy, said that after hearing a loud crash, he ran into his brother’s room only to find the mattress and dresser inside the hole and hearing his brother’s voice crying for help.

“All I saw was this big hole,” Jeremy said. “I didn’t see anything else, so I jumped in the hole and tried digging him out. And I couldn’t get him.”

The 911 call brought Hillsborough County deputy, Douglas Duvall, to the scene just in time to pull Jeremy out of the ever-growing unstable hole as he struggled to look for his brother.

“When I entered the house, the only thing I saw was a huge hole in the ground,” Duvall said. “I grabbed Mr. Bush and pulled him. I have never seen anything like this and how quick the destruction was.”

For lack of better words, the deadly incident baffled local officials who are well aware of the sinkhole-prone area.

“This is not your typical sinkhole,” said Hillsborough County administrator, Mike Merrill, as he talked to reporters with the giant hole only yards away.

Neighbors nearby also had to be evacuated as a precaution, while one of the homes adjacent to the sinkhole-ridden home also had to be condemned, giving homeowners a mere 30 minutes to grab what they could.

Engineers, including Bill Bracken, who were surprised to see that the house itself had not been swallowed up as well, were taking soil samples and running various tests, but acknowledged that the entire lot is unstable.

“I cannot tell you why the house has not collapsed yet,” Bracken said, adding that officials were still trying to determine the nature of what is down the hole.

With the unsuccessful search and recovery of Jeff Bush over, utility crews began tearing the house down inch by inch and, what was once a family home, became Jeff Bush’s final resting place just three days after the sinkhole appeared.

With everything that we had, we just could not locate Mr. Bush,” Merrill said. “At this point, it just not possible to recover the body.”

The news was something expected as Bush’s brother, Jeremy, told reporters that when he realized that nobody would or could go into the house, it was his brothers last resting place.

Bush said, choking back tears, “I feel that they could have done more to get my brother out of there.” Discouraged over the results of the effort and the realization that his brother’s body will never be recovered, Bush said he hopes that perhaps a tombstone or a bench would remain at the site and serve as a memorial.

In a brief and impromptu, but highly emotional ceremony, Jeremy Bush, joined by several members of his family, said a tearful goodbye to his brother while placing flowers, a stuffed animal and some smaller items that served as a small memorial at the front of the home inside an excavator bucket which was lowered into the sinkhole.

All those present at the scene watched as the excavator, bucket by bucket, filled the sinkhole with gravel, after which Hillsborough County spokesman, Willie Puz, explained that moving forward, engineers will be focusing on stabilizing the hole, but warned that it is actually wider than the foundation.

Many residents have come forward to reach out to the community in hopes of giving some support to the family, including Mayhem Restaurant located 1812 S. Parsons Ave. Anyone that would like to make a monetary donation may contact Margie Burnett at 689-0077.