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Issue Date: June 2009


Buried alive in a graveyard

One morning in October 2006, Ross “Buddy” Barton III of Wooster was buried alive for almost three hours when an 8-foot ditch he was working in collapsed. The ditch flooded during the rescue attempt, and his heart stopped twice before he was freed.
By Ross “Buddy” Barton III
I was a pipelayer, which means I was the guy who got sent down into the ditch to put the pipe together.

The ditch was only about 2 feet wide, so about as wide as my shoulders. I couldn’t see out. It’s never comfortable going into a ditch taller than you, but this was no different than many jobs I’ve done. It happened to be in a graveyard. And it happened to be Thursday the 12th, right before Friday the 13th.

I had my left arm thrown up over the pipe and my right arm up under it, kind of like a bear hug, getting ready to get it in place.

Then it happened. The dirt caved in around me.

At first, it wasn’t a big deal. It felt like a blanket. It was really light. But then every quarter-second, it got worse. And worse and worse. And then I couldn’t breath.

All the blood vessels in my eyes broke because of all the blood that was forced into my head.

The dirt forced my face into the pipe. It just got heavier and heavier and heavier. I heard a big pop. It was me. I thought for sure it was my neck breaking, but it was the sound of my jaw snapping in two.

It was the worst pain. A co-worker whispered in my ear, “Just think about your wife and your kids, and don’t go to sleep.”

All I could see was a black and white picture of my daughter in the sky. She wasn’t smiling or crying, she was just staring at me.

I thought,Who is going to raise my kids? Is my wife going to get remarried? All kinds of stupid things.

It was so drawn out, and it was so painful. I’ve always had the attitude that if you work hard and believe in something then you’ll make it. That was the first time in my life that the odds were stacked against me so badly. That was the first time I ever thought,Yeah, it’s pretty much over.

I kind of just went to sleep. I remember closing my eyes because I just couldn’t bear it. I saw the light like everybody says you do when dying. It was a bright light — just dead silence.

I remember coming to and waking up. I looked up again, and there was my whole crew. They were all crying and standing together and just staring at me.

A kid was lying on his stomach, trying to shovel the mud out from around my feet. There were guys holding my head up, screaming, “Can you hear me? Can you move? Can you talk?”

I remember hearing this really loud generator right up by my head to get the water out of the ditch — a water line broke.

It was really cold, and I was totally soaked.

When the doctors woke me up, I was still trying to dig myself out of the trench with my left side, which could still move.

I still didn’t really know what happened until like 10 o’clock that night, when I was lying in my hospital bed. A sweet little old lady who was taking care of me said, “You’re a movie star.” She turned on the news, and it showed the scene.

Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be an auctioneer. You can’t really just up and decide you’re going to take off work for three weeks and go to auctioneer school. It took a giant wall of dirt and dying twice — doctors said they revived me twice — to get me to be an auctioneer. My wife ended up working three different jobs while I was off to make up the money we had lost.

Life is still a battle. There are times when I’ll lie in bed and put the covers over myself. It’s dark. And just when I start falling asleep, I panic. I start thinking it’s a wall of dirt. -- as told to Erica Jacobson

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