Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill stood solemnly at the microphones March 2, at around 5 p.m., when he announced the impending demolition of the house at 240 Faithway Drive in Seffner.
"With a heavy heart I stand before you today, and that’s because the mission has changed for us," he said. "My sympathies go out to the family and to all of their friends and their neighbors here, who have gone through this horrible tragedy."
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Family, friends and neighbors banded together after the press conference to mourn the death of Jeffrey Bush, 36, who had screamed out in panic shortly before his bed, and bedroom, caved into a sinkhole Feb. 28, at around 11 p.m.
They had held on to hope that somehow, some way, Bush would be found alive.
Then, as the hours and days passed, that at least his body would be recovered for a proper burial by cremation, which is what he said he had preferred, according to Amber Wicker, whose sister, Rachel, is married to Bush's younger brother, Jeremy, 34.
According to Wicker, it was Jeremy who had attempted to save his brother's life, as he screamed out that faithful night, after it sounded like a car had crashed into the structure: "Jeremy, save me! Jeremy, save me!"
As the skies darkened March 2, it was Jeremy who carried a single rose to the sidewalk directly in front of the home, where a collection of flowers was forming, as friend after family member after neighbor paid their final respects. The night before he had placed a simple box of flowers across the street from the home, which throughout the next day had grown with additional memorial mementoes.
"The mission has changed because we can no longer sustain a rescue effort," Merrill said earlier, at times with a catch in his voice, as he stood before a sea of media. "We met with the family, we advised them of that, and that at this point we have to move beyond the rescue to the demolition phase and securing of the site."
Soon after, an extremely large piece of equipment was rolled out, getting set for the demolition work that was to begin this morning.
"Basically, the engineering team [has] determined that the site is entirely unstable, and for that reason we really can't bring a lot of the equipment on to the site," Merrill said. "Any further work will need to be done from the perimeter."
As the memorial wound up and people readied to leave — with a bonfire planned at a neighbor's home later that evening to aid in the grieving process — a family member said to a member of the press, "We'll see you tomorrow."
He voice was slightly upbeat, and thus it was observed.
"I'm the grandson," he said, "and I believe things happen for a purpose."
He pointed to the number on the house, then to the number on the backhoe brought in to help tear it down. It was the same number: "240."
"My grandmother is here," the man said, alluding to the home's first owner, whose husband, Leland Wicker, had bought the home in 1974, when it was one of two homes in the tight-knit Seffner community.
Bill Bracken of Bracken Engineering, the county's chief engineer for urban, search and rescue, said in an interview earlier in the evening, that there was no reason why the house should still be standing.
Given the circumstances of the situation, and the characteristics of the sinkhole, "I don't know why that house is still standing," he said.
"The grandmother," this reporter noted.
Bracken paused, broke into a slight smile, and said: "That's what the family said."
Wicker was told of this exchange later in the night, after the memorial, and she agreed, saying it gave the family a measure of relief to believe that the grandmother was watching from above, telling them through the sign of the common number — "240" — that while they could never give Jeffrey Bush a proper burial, it was okay, that he was with her.
"There are angels among us," she said. "I believe that."
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