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Washed out road in Kane County triggers car wreck; teen suffers broken back

After dawn day crash  towtruck crewman works pull out Ford Taurus thplunged in10-foot-deep hole middle road BurlingtTownship. A 15-year-old

After dawn on the day of the crash, a towtruck crewman works to pull out the Ford Taurus that plunged into a 10-foot-deep hole in the middle of a road in Burlington Township. A 15-year-old Elgin youth riding in the back seat remains hospitalized with several broken bones. | COURTESY DAVID GUSTAFSON

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Updated: July 3, 2014 10:38PM

The rural Kane County road that gobbled up a whole Ford Taurus in a culvert washout was fixed by Thursday morning. Two girls enjoyed the sunny 70-degree weather as they rode horses across the filled-in gap.

But it will take longer for 15-year-old Larkin High School student Benjamin Hernandez to recover from a collection of broken bones, including one in his spine, that he sustained in the crash.

The Elgin teen was siting in the back seat of the Taurus, slipping newspapers into waterproof sleeves, as his mother, Juanita Pineda, drove through the night on their newspaper-delivery route in Burlington Township, Northwest of Elgin. It was pitch black, 3:50 a.m., and there was a fierce cloudburst of a thunderstorm falling on them.

Suddenly the car plunged into a 10-foot hole that had opened in the pavement, trapping both and squeezing Benjamin inside. Then, as Juanita talked on her cellphone to a 911 operator and waited for help to arrive, a pickup truck came along the same road about seven minutes later and drove right over the top of their car. The pickup went into a ditch, but the driver escaped serious injury.

In a 911 recording obtained by NBC5 Chicago News, Juanita can be heard telling her injured son, “Don’t move. Don’t move. They’re coming, Papi. Hold on.”

She tells the Kane County 911 operator that he has trouble breathing and can’t move his neck.

About 10 minutes later, emergency crews arrive on the scene.

Juanita suffered some bruises, but son Benjamin was taken to Delnor Hospital in Geneva, where he reportedly was found to have a fractured spinal vertebra, a broken rib, a broken nose and a broken jaw. He was transferred to Loyola Medical Center in Maywood, where a spokeswoman said he was in fair condition Thursday.

The Kane County Sheriff’s Office described the chasm that ensnared the Elginites’ car as a “sinkhole,” but that is not quite accurate. A sinkhole is a hole that suddenly appears in the ground because of unnoticed erosion going on deep below. But Carl Schoedel, director of the Kane County Division of Transportation, said the thing that struck Thomas Road probably should be defined as a “culvert washout.”

The crash happened right where a creek called the Virgil Ditch passes under Thomas Road through a 5-foot-diameter steel culvert. When Monday night’s intense storms increased the water depth and speed in Virgil Ditch, it apparently washed away all the soil between the road pavement and the culvert.

Schoedel said the Burlington Township Highway Department is responsible for maintaining Thomas Road and the culvert. But he said that based on what county crews described seeing there, a flared metal shield around the ends of the culvert, which are supposed to focus the water’s force into the pipe, had broken loose. That allowed the rushing water to push hard against the soil on the upstream side and pull away the soil on the downstream side until the pavement had nothing to hold it up anymore.

That opened a hole about 10 feet deep and 8 to 10 feet wide — a hole big enough to swallow a Ford Taurus.

By Thursday morning, township workers had almost completely repaired the chasm. What looks like a brand new corrugated steel culvert has replaced the old, rusty one. The space around and above the culvert has been filled in with soil and gravel, and the exposed surfaces that face the creek have been weighed down with layer of heavy 6-inch-diameter stones.

The only signs that a near-tragedy had happened here were that the asphalt pavement now is replaced by dirt and gravel for 8 or 10 feet. New orange signs warned of “Loose Gravel” and the muddy ground alongside the road was beaten down with tracks from heavy equipment that had been used to do the repairs.

Township Highway Commissioner Jack Krueger did not return calls Thursday.

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