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Father of three had much of his life before him — then he was buried alive on the job

In World
May 14, 2024

On a summer morning in 2022, construction worker Joshua “Kerrey” Brindle climbed into a trench to help lay sewer pipes for a new neighborhood of single family homes in Albemarle.

Suddenly, the vertical walls of the eight-and-a-half-foot-deep trench collapsed, state records show. Brindle, a 30-year-old father of three, ran but could not outrace the falling dirt. He was buried alive.

Like many other fatal construction accidents in North Carolina, this tragedy was preventable.

Under OSHA rules, excavation companies are required to use devices called “trench boxes” or other methods to prevent the walls of deep trenches from caving in on workers. They are also supposed to have qualified people inspect trenches each day.

That didn’t happen on this job site in central North Carolina, state workplace safety inspectors found.

Inspectors also found that excavated material was placed directly at the trench’s upper edge, another violation of OSHA rules.

Hard Hat Deaths: Once every 10 days, a NC construction worker dies on the job. Many deaths are preventable.

The state fined the excavation contractor, Brindle Site Services, $66,708 for three serious violations and one “willful” violation, the most severe kind of penalty.

Brindle Site Services, which had done trenching work for 28 years, knew methods to protect employees inside trenches but failed to use them, state regulators concluded.

Deepening the tragedy, Brindle’s father, John Kevin Brindle, is president of Brindle Site Services, the company that had been doing the excavation work the morning Kerry died. He didn’t respond to a request for comment.

When this trench collapsed in Albemarle on July 5, 2022, Kerrey Brindle was not able to escape before he was buried alive.

When this trench collapsed in Albemarle on July 5, 2022, Kerrey Brindle was not able to escape before he was buried alive.

‘I was mad at God’

Brindle’s mother, Tammy Bost, also lost an older son to COVID in 2021. His death was not sudden, so she had time to reconcile herself to his passing, she said.

But when Kerrey died a year later, Bost had no time to prepare herself.

“That knocked me out like a ton of bricks,” she said. “I couldn’t accept it. I was mad at God then.”

Brindle’s daughters, who were ages 6, 5 and four-months old when he died, were the “joy of his life,” his mother said. An avid outdoorsman, Brindle loved to hunt deer and take his daughters to his father’s farm to see the horses and cows, Bost said.

“The youngest — she lost an opportunity,” Bost said. “She’s never going to get to do the horseplay and the other things her older sisters got to do with him.”

Kerrey Brindle, shown here with daughters Ryleigh and Kylynn, before his death in 2022.

Kerrey Brindle, shown here with daughters Ryleigh and Kylynn, before his death in 2022.

Brindle, who lived in the southern Cabarrus County town of Midland, was rambunctious as a teenager, his mother said. But he matured into a hard-working and deeply religious man, who read the Bible daily.

When he wasn’t working, he would often go to thrift stores to buy rusted pocket knives, damaged alarm systems and other items in need of repair. Then he’d fix them up and sell them. He loved spending time with his fiancee, friends and family members — and playing pranks on them, his mother said.

Today, Bost says she believes that workplace safety inspections are too rare — and that fines are too low — to encourage safer practices on job sites.

The state labor department conducts safety inspections in response to complaints and deaths, and as part of its routine inspection program. But North Carolina law doesn’t spell out how often each job site should be inspected, and some companies never get visits from safety officers.

But as construction has expanded in North Carolina over the past decade, workplace safety inspections have dropped sharply. Labor department officials say that’s largely because they’ve had difficulty attracting and retaining compliance officers.

State workplace safety inspectors had never previously inspected Brindle Site Services, records show.

Bost wonders whether Kerrey would be alive today if safety inspectors checked job sites more regularly and did more surprise inspections.

“When it comes to safety and construction, it’s very slack,” Bost said. “If there were checks and balances, I wonder whether all of this could have been avoided.”

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