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Worker killed in flood loved — and feared — job in the sewers

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Updated: October 21, 2013 6:19AM

Sewer worker Gustavo Briceno loved the job that took him to the dark, cramped places beneath the city, but he had also told his family that he feared the sewers — especially during heavy rains or snowfall.

“What if something happens to me? What will happen to my kids?” he’d told his wife, Sandra Hernandez, on more than one occasion.

Hernandez, married for six years, must now answer those questions after the 25-year-old Glendale Heights man died after he was trapped in a sewer in the Avondale neighborhood Wednesday night as storms lashed the area.

Hernandez’ grief was all the more difficult because she found out about her husband’s death on Facebook, said her sister, Imelda Alanis, 31, of Glendale Heights.

“Nobody else told her what happened to her husband — nobody,” said Alanis, talking to reporters outside her sister’s home.

Hernandez was with her children at Alanis’ home Thursday, the sister said.

Alanis described Briceno as a truly dedicated family man, who walked his kids to school each day before he went to work. His children include stepdaughter Heidi Hernandez, 8, son Jowell, 4, and daughter Chanel, 3. He loved his job with Kenny Construction and was always concerned about safety. He wasn’t the type to take risks, Alanis said.

Federal investigators said Thursday they are looking into the circumstances of Briceno’s death.

“We do have investigators on the scene,” said Scott Allen, a spokesman for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. “We have opened an investigation.”

Allen said the investigation is standard procedure in an accident involving a fatality.

Briceno’s employer, Kenny Construction, issued a statement Thursday afternoon.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of one of our co-workers last night,” said Jacque Fourchy, a Kenny spokeswoman. “Gustavo Briceno, Jr. was a valued member of our team. The cause of the incident is not known at this time. Kenny Construction places the highest value on safety. We are working cooperatively with authorities on the investigation. Our focus right now is on supporting Gustavo’s family, his friends and all of our employees who have been affected.”

Fire personnel used a remote-control camera Wednesday night to search for Briceno after he was swept away. They found his body, clad in a wetsuit, about a block away in the sewer near Barry and Rockwell, Fire Media Affairs director Larry Langford said.

A man ran up to the scene and said: “That’s my son!”

He was restrained by police and later comforted by construction workers.

Briceno was pronounced dead at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center just after 11 p.m., according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

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