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3 People, Dog Die in Texas Cornfield Tragedy

They tried to rescue dog, each other from uncovered cistern
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 11, 2023 12:45 PM CDT

An underground structure used to store water in a Texas cornfield became a literal death trap for three people from Florida and their dog, police say. The Bastrop County Sheriff's Office says officers received a call around 1am Wednesday about three people trapped in a hole. The sheriff's office says a group of four people had set out to hunt hogs when one of their dogs jumped out of a truck and ended up falling in the cistern. Investigators believe one person went into the cistern to try to rescue the dog and the other two entered to try to rescue the first person, CBS News reports. The fourth person—who lives in the area and had invited the Florida residents to go hog hunting—stayed out of the cistern and called 911 for help.

The cornfield was near the town of Elgin, east of Austin. Investigators say the water level in the cistern was around eight feet below the opening and the water contained hydrogen sulphite gas, KVUE reports. Bastrop County Sheriff Maurice Cook said at a briefing Thursday that the group was probably overcome by the toxic gas, which may also have affected their buoyancy in the water, the Austin American-Statesman reports. "It wasn't long in the tank before they went to the bottom," he said. Strong fumes could be smelled coming from the hole and after diving teams all refused to enter, citing concerns about the gas and the integrity of the structure, authorities pumped out the water and ventilated the gas.

The sheriff's office says that after a drone inspected the structure, an officer volunteered to be lowered into the hole to retrieve the bodies of the three people and the dog. The victims were identified as Delvys Garcia, 37; Denise Martinez, 26; and Noel Vigil-Benitez, 45. The sheriff said ground-level cistern openings like the one in Wednesday's tragedy are usually covered. He said the property owner recently died, and it's not clear whether legal action will ensue. "It's a sad day whenever it ends like it did yesterday," Cook said at the briefing Thursday. "Can you imagine? You have loved ones and they come to Texas to hunt and then it ends like this." (More Texas stories.)

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