Man falls into utility pit after rare sidewalk collapse

On Aug. 17, Aiea resident Walter Davis says he was walking on a busy sidewalk near Waimalu Shopping Plaza when a concrete slab collapsed underneath him.

“It’s ridiculous, that something like that can happen on an everyday sidewalk,” he said.

Davis fell into a pit, about six feet deep. He suffered injuries and was taken to the hospital.

“I’ll never walk a sidewalk again. I’m ducking and dodging as I make my way through town,” he said.

KHON2 found out Davis fell through a Hawaiian Electric hand hole cover.

Hand holes are on sidewalks across the state. They are used to cover underground cables and wires.

Other companies, like Hawaiian Telcom, Oceanic Cable, Board of Water Supply, and county and state agencies, also maintain hand holes.

“How could this happen? I really want to know what caused it to collapse like that on a pedestrian sidewalk,” said Davis.

KHON2 brought Davis’s concerns to HECO’s attention. We wanted to know: How safe are hand hole covers?

HECO spokesman Darren Pai sent a written statement:

“Our number one priority is the safety of the public and our work crews. We respond promptly to investigate, inspect and perform any necessary repairs and take other corrective action when we receive reports regarding issues with our equipment. Our crews regularly inspect and perform this maintenance and repair work on our underground electrical infrastructure equipment including handholes and manholes as part of Hawaiian Electric’s standard operating procedures and work practices.”

But when asked what caused the hand hole to collapse and what it’s doing to prevent it from happening again, HECO says it’s still investigating.

KHON2 showed photos of the incident to Panos Prevedouros, professor of civil engineering at University of Hawaii at Manoa.

“How is that even possible?” said Prevedouros, as he looked through the photos.

Prevedouros says hand holes are designed to hold 500 pounds of weight or more.

“Probably something in the support system underneath was compromised. If this big lid essentially collapsed underneath the weight of a human, what was supporting it underneath was completely rotted out,” he said.

While Prevedouros says what happened to Davis is rare, it does happen. He says hand holes should be inspected every one or two years “because you never know when these things are going to fail.”

Pai says the company is working with Davis to resolve the matter.

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