By Amy Macavinta, Logan Herald Journal
The body of a missing Brigham City man was found submerged in a sewer pond near Lava Hot Springs on Wednesday morning.
Bannock County Sheriff’s Capt. Kevin Fonnesbeck said the man, 61-year-old Shelby Whitaker, was still inside his truck.
“It’s a horrible tragedy for the family, it’s a horrible tragedy for the company, and even a tragedy for the community,” Fonnesbeck said. “He had been here for several months, and he had become part of the Lava community.”
Whitaker was last seen early Saturday at the site of a sewer project he was working on with a crew from Whitaker Construction, based in Brigham City.
Fonnesbeck said Whitaker frequently started up his equipment in the morning then went for a cup of coffee.
On Saturday, he did start his equipment, and that was the last time he was seen.
His co-workers contacted authorities Monday when he did not show up for work.
According to Fonnesbeck, construction workers discovered debris on one of the sewer ponds in the area where they had been working. A short time later, detectives found tire tracks near one of two sewer ponds, leading them to pump the pond.
Fonnesbeck confirmed late Tuesday that there was a vehicle in the pond, but that he was unable to positively identify the vehicle until late Wednesday morning.
Fonnesbeck said the heavy plastic lining of the sewage pond is slick, like “oiled glass,” and it appears Whitaker accidentally slid right into the pond.
Wednesday morning, the pond had been drained to about 2 1/2 feet, and authorities were able to identify the truck.
Because of the raw sewage and chemicals in the pond, Bannock County had to send for a hazmat team out of Pocatello to retrieve the body.
Fonnesbeck said the actual cause of death cannot be determined until the body has been decontaminated and examined by a coroner. However, at this time, he says it appears to be a tragic accident.
Whitaker’s cousin, Rick Whitaker, said Shelby has been part of the family owned business at which he had been employed for the last 43 years.
Rick said the mood within the company is much different today with the news of Shelby’s death.
“He was dependable, and he was really good at what he did,” Rick said. “I could go on and on about what a great operator he was.”
Rick said the company has been in the area for the last three months working on a sewer rehabilitation project that included upgrading the lining.
He has no explanation for what happened.
“We’re just waiting to see what the report says,” he said.