2006.04.24: April 24, 2006: Headlines: COS - Kyrgyzstan: Obituaries: Monterey Herald: Body of Jason Chellew recovered as sinkhole keeps growing

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Kyrgyzstan: Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan : The Peace Corps in Kyrgyzstan: 2006.04.24: April 24, 2006: Headlines: COS - Kyrgyzstan: Obituaries: Monterey Herald: Body of Jason Chellew recovered as sinkhole keeps growing

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Body of Jason Chellew recovered as sinkhole keeps growing

Body of Jason Chellew recovered as sinkhole keeps growing

Jason Chellew served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kyrgyzstan from 1999 to 2001.

Body of Jason Chellew recovered as sinkhole keeps growing

Sinkhole swallows floor, killing man
The Sacramento Bee

SACRAMENTO - A giant sinkhole that swallowed an Alta man in his living room Friday night was still growing Sunday, precluding rescuers from recovering the victim.

Family friend Rick Armstrong said the missing man is presumed to be Jason Chellew, 32, though he deferred to authorities for an official identification.

Jeff Brand, a battalion chief with the California Department of Forestry, said the victim had no pulse when a CDF team was first on the scene Friday night. At that point, the victim was buried under 8 feet of debris and rescuers had to withdraw because the hole was unstable.

The victim is presumed dead.

''This is a very emotional thing for the family and all of the emergency personnel responding,'' said Placer County Sheriff's Lt. Rich Tornberg. ''We want to do something... but we don't want to compound it.''

Tornberg said the victim's identity would not be officially announced until the body is recovered.

The hole appeared suddenly about 9:30 p.m. in the floor of the home in Alta. The victim was relaxing in his living room and reportedly heard creaking noises. He sprang up and began to move across the room just as the floor opened beneath him.

''From what we understand, it was instantaneous,'' said Brand.

Alta is a town of about 900 people, 25 miles east of Auburn and just north of Interstate 80, in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The town sits at an elevation of about 3,600 feet.

News of the tragic death hit the community hard.

''It's really a sad occurrence. You hate to lose anybody like that,'' said Carol Gillies, clerk of the Alta Fire District. ''This whole area is undermined with mines. It makes you think about where did I build my house?''

The Alta area was heavily mined for gold in the late 1800s. A mine collapse is one likely cause of the tragedy, but officials say they can't explain it yet. A team of 100 people was investigating the site Sunday, including numerous geologists brought in to determine if the hole is safe enough to resume a recovery effort.

By Sunday afternoon, the hole had doubled in size to 30 feet wide and 20 feet deep, and was still growing.

The hole, in fact, had spread beyond some of the load-bearing walls of the home, leading the recovery team to conclude that the home must be dismantled before they can go back in. Otherwise, they risk having the house collapse on top of them during the recovery effort.

Before that can happen, geologists must determine if the land around the home can support heavy equipment.

A second sinkhole also opened up about 50 feet away from one side of the house, but officials don't know if the two holes are connected underground.

Douglas Ferrier, president of the Golden Drift Historical Society, said the area was part of the historic Nary Red Mine. This is actually a complex of 16 different gold mining claims that operated from the 1860s to the 1940s, he said.

Both hydraulic and tunnel mining occurred in this complex. Ferrier said no maps exist of these mines, nor is he aware of any concerted effort to seal old mine shafts in the area.

''It would not surprise me at all that there are shafts and tunnels that do not show evidence on the surface but that may be there underneath the ground,'' said Ferrier. His group exists to preserve the mining history of Gold Run, Dutch Flat and Alta.

''Whenever you're living in mining areas, you should consider that. There may be absolutely no surface evidence that it's there, and it could be 5 feet below the surface. You don't know.''

Armstrong, a retired Placer County Sheriff's captain, said he has known the Chellew family for decades.

Gerald Chellew, the victim's father, is a retired California Highway Patrolman, and the two men had parallel careers in Sierra foothill law enforcement.

The victim, said Armstrong, was Gerald and Melinda Chellew's only child. The couple had recently renovated the ground floor of their two-story home into an apartment for their son and his new bride, Kathy, a native of Taiwan. She has no other family in the U.S., Armstrong said, and the couple is expecting their first child in about five months.

The couple met while Jason was working as a teacher overseas. More recently, both were working as student teachers in the Alta area while continuing their education, Armstrong said. Jason Chellew was a graduate of Colfax High School.

Kathy Chellew, Armstrong said, was in bed when the floor gave way under her husband.

''If you want to make a bad-case scenario, this is it,'' said Armstrong, who had known the victim since he was a toddler. ''It's a loss of a personal friend of mine, too, so it's very difficult. It's a community loss as much as a personal family loss.''

Armstrong called the circumstances ''bizarre.''

''I've never been involved in anything like this, and I was a cop for 38 years,'' he sad.

The Chellews are staying with neighbors across the road. Ironically, said Armstrong, those neighbors lost their home in a fire several years ago, and stayed with the Chellews after that disaster.

The two-story Chellew home was built in 1979 and sits on a slope, with the ground floor built partially underground on a slab foundation, said Brand of the CDF. Gerald and Melinda Chellew lived on the upper floor, while their son and daughter-in-law lived below.

Brand said there were no recent signs that the home was under stress, such as cracks in the walls or water leaks.

''Our main concern is that the hole developing under the house has caused the structure to partially collapse and become real unstable,'' said Brand.

When this story was posted in April 2006, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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We have heard persistent rumors that Director Vasquez will soon be receiving a new position in the administration, perhaps a major ambassadorship. This is unsubstantiated although it comes from a credible source. The Peace Corps Press Office has had no comment.

Initiatives and Accomplishments: Vasquez's major initiatives and accomplishments since becoming Peace Corps Director include: an agreement with Mexico in 2003 to host volunteers, sending RPCVs to work domestically in Hurricane relief after Katrina, emphasis on recruitment of minorities and of community college graduates, upgrading Peace Corps' infrastructure especially IT upgrades in the online application tracking process and the Volunteer Delivery System, an emphasis on safety and security of volunteers including the creation of a Situation Room at Peace Corps Headquarters, modifying Peace Corps' "Five Year Rule" for employment, and the expansion of the Peace Corps to its highest level in 30 years. He is the third longest serving Peace Corps Director after Ruppe Miller and Shriver.

PCOL Comment: Although we have had our differences with the Director over the years and opposed his nomination in 2001, we think he is leaving a solid legacy of accomplishment. Director Vasquez, if these rumors turn out to be true, let us be the first to thank you for your service to the Peace Corps, congratulate you on your new appointment, and wish you good luck in your future endeavors.

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Story Source: Monterey Herald

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Kyrgyzstan; Obituaries


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