Employees die after getting stuck in drain pipe at Suffolk landfill

(Photo: City of Suffolk)
(Photo: City of Suffolk)

SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Two landfill employees in Suffolk died Tuesday after investigators say they got trapped in a vertical drain pipe.

Eric Williams (Photo courtesy of family)
Eric Williams (Photo courtesy of family)

Police have identified the victims as Eric O’Brien Williams, 35, of Portsmouth, and Stephen Louis Wilk, 60, of Moyock, N.C. They were employees at John C. Holland Enterprises, Inc., off of Nansemond Parkway.

Suffolk Fire and Rescue received the call about 11:15 Tuesday morning. It’s still unclear who called for help and how long the men were trapped before rescue crews found them.

Williams’ loved ones say he leaves behind a large family, including three children. His death happened on his nine-year-old birthday.

“Eric didn’t bother nobody.” said Fannie Cofiele, Williams’ grandmother. “He always was a hard worker and he treated people like you wanted to be treated. I loved that about him.”

The employees somehow got stuck in the pipe, which is three feet wide and 20 feet deep, according to Suffolk Fire & Rescue Deputy Chief Ted Adams.

City spokeswoman Diana Klink said the two men had a ladder with them inside the culvert, but we’re still working to figure out what the two men were doing in the moments before the incident.

“We got to know what happened because they can make some changes at that job. That’s why we have to find out what happened. We don’t know nothing,” said Laverne Williams, victim’s mother.

Crews from Chesapeake, Norfolk and Virginia Beach responded to assist in the rescue efforts. Uneven and damp terrain in the 70-acre landfill hampered efforts to get to the two men.

Klink tells WAVY.com Williams and Wilk were unresponsive when rescuers reached them.

Suffolk Police and OSHA will investigate.