By Dave Russell
Nowhere on his birthday wish list did Cullowhee resident Ethan Owen have “get buried alive.”
The Cullowhee resident, who turned 26 Monday, was in a trench laying storm drain pipe that afternoon for a student apartment complex on South Painter Road in Cullowhee when a 10-foot wall collapsed.
“I was the only one in the ditch, and as I went to turn around and come out on top of this piece of pipe we had just laid, they all started hollering, ‘watch out, watch out’ and by the time I could see it, it had fallen over me and covered me from the waist down,” he said.
Nathan Holbrook, 35, of Lake Junaluska, jumped off the trackhoe and tried to pull Owen out.
“He put his arms around me, trying to get my legs out, and before he could pull me out another section of the wall fell and covered me completely up,” Owen said. “His head was still sticking out, but mine wasn’t. It just went from daylight to dark real quick.”
Holbrook injured his shoulder during the rescue attempt.
Construction workers started digging him out. He was almost chest deep when personnel from the Cullowhee Fire Department arrived, Chief Tim Green said.
They joined in the rescue, shoveling dirt to free Owen, who stayed buried or partially buried for about half an hour, Green said.
The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, Rescue Squad and Harris EMS also responded to the scene.
Owen and Holbrook walked without aid to the ambulances and were treated and released from Harris Regional Hospital.
According to his Facebook page, Owen works for Site Development Corp., the same contractor working on the 500-bedroom apartment complex a few miles away plagued by erosion problems.
That development is a public-private partnership between Wilmington-based Zimmer Development Co. and Western Carolina University.
The developer of the South Painter Road 248-bedroom project, called Bellamy Western, is Mallory and Evans, of Atlanta.
According to Jackson County tax records, the owner of the 11.84-acre tract is WCU Student Housing LLC.