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Old July 6th, 2007, 02:24 PM  
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Default Methane Gas Kills 5 in Farm's Manure Pit

BRIDGEWATER, Va. -- Deadly methane gas emanating from a dairy farm's manure pit killed five people -- a Mennonite farmer who climbed into the pit to unclog a pipe, and then, in a frantic rescue attempt that failed, his wife, two young daughters and a farmhand who tried to help.

"They all climbed into the pit to help," Sheriff Donald Farley said. "Before they hit the floor, they were probably all dead."

Farmers typically take pains to ventilate manure pits, where methane often gathers. "You cannot smell it, you cannot see it, but it's an instant kill," said Dan Brubaker, a family friend who oversaw the construction of the pit decades earlier.

Scott Showalter, 34, apparently was transferring manure from one small pit to a larger holding pond Monday evening, the sheriff said.

About once a week, waste is pumped from the roughly 9-foot-deep pit into a larger pond. When something clogged the drain, Showalter shimmied through the 4-foot opening into the enclosure. He would have climbed down a ladder into about 18 inches of manure.

"There was gas in there, and he immediately succumbed," Farley said.
Believing Showalter had suffered a heart attack, police said, a farmhand followed him moments later and also passed out. That's when another farm worker alerted Showalter's wife, Phyillis.

"The family took off to try to get him," said Sonny Layman, who rents a house on the farm. "Phyillis threw the phone out at me and asked me to dial 911." Layman instead followed her and two of the Showalter's four children.

Phyillis died, along with daughters Shayla, 11, and Christina, 9, and farmhand Amous Stoltzfus, 24. The Showalters' two surviving daughters were being cared for by family members.

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Fit in, until I found out...
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