Discussion with coroner

Columbia City Fire Marshal Chris LaRue discusses the situation with Whitley County Coroner Randy Dellinger.

COLUMBIA CITY — More details about Tuesday’s utility accident in Columbia City have been released — a story that has left two families devastated by tragedy.

According to Whitley County Coroner Randy Dellinger, Bronson Ball, 21, who was working with a crew on a sewer project, went down into a manhole and became unresponsive.

“He didn’t respond, so his dad went down after him,” Dellinger said.

The father, Jason Ball, 48, and later a supervisor, Douglas Kramer, 43, both went down into the manhole, but none returned, as oxygen levels below the surface were not compatible with life.

“Once they got down there, they became hypoxic and subsequently drowned,” Dellinger said.

The 20-foot-deep manhole had about 5 feet of water inside. The pipe was only about 100-yards long and wasn’t hooked into anything, which Dellinger believes contributed to the lack of oxygen below the surface.

“If it would have exited, there could have been some airflow and ventilation down there,” he said.

The manner of death was ruled an accident for all three men, caused by asphyxiation.

Crews with Crosby Excavating have been working on the project for several months, and Columbia City Mayor Ryan Daniel expressed his condolences in a press release Tuesday afternoon.

“We ask that the community join us in keeping these individuals and their families in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time,” Daniel said.

Columbia City’s emergency dispatchers took the call at about 8:55 a.m. on Tuesday, and the city fire department called on a Fort Wayne special rescue team to assist. Life-saving measures were taken after the men were pulled from the manhole, but all three were pronounced dead at the scene. Personnel were on the scene for several hours Tuesday morning.

Bronson Ball was a 2018 graduate of Columbia City High School. Jason was a member of the Class of 1990.

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