Local man dies in Berryville trench collapse

A Front Royal man working on a residential sewer line in Berryville died Wednesday after a trench collapsed and buried him up to his neck.

Officials with the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office responded to the 100 block of Battletown Drive in Berryville at 9:52 a.m. to find Russell Allen Polen, 48, of Mountain Lake Drive in Front Royal, entrapped in dirt with only his head exposed. Polen worked for Broy and Son Pump Service, which had been hired to repair the underground sewer line.

Chief Deputy Travis Sumption of the Sheriff’s Office said he was one of the first responders on the scene. He said the trench Polen was trapped in was very unstable, so Clarke County Fire and Rescue called in other teams for assistance in a rescue operation. Water from the lines further complicated rescue efforts, but Sumption said responders were able to take care of that water quickly.

“It’s a real struggle, the trench itself was unstable,” he said. “It was pretty hectic for the first hour, hour and a half or so.”

Loudoun and Fairfax county fire and rescue departments responded to the scene and Frederick County and Winchester fire and rescue departments also assisted. Officials with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration responded, as did medical personnel from Inova Fairfax Hospital. A news release issued late Wednesday night stated that there were about 70 responders at the scene.

At first, Sumption said Polen was able to speak with medics, but “his condition started to deteriorate as the time went on.”

Sumption said a doctor from the hospital pronounced Polen dead sometime between 12:30 and 1 p.m.

Crews were able to recover his body and it was taken to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner shortly after 4 p.m. Berryville Police Chief Neal White will receive the results of the autopsy from the examiner’s Manassas office.

Sumption said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will continue its investigation, but area law enforcement is confident that there was no foul play.

“We’re not looking at this for any type of criminal violation whatsoever,” he said.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137, ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com.