New! Tales From the Field


Strange Encounters in a Crawlspace, Part 2: Creepy Crawly

This is the second installment in a new monthly segment that will appear in Donan’s eNews. This feature will put some fun and entertainment into forensics. We hope you enjoy! If you do not currently receive our monthly eNews, sign up here!


What Lies Beneath the Pig Barn
By Scott Muka, S.E., P.E., South Bend, Indiana

During my new employee training, a supervisor corrected me during a conversation.  “Pigs don’t stink; they have an odor.”  I sure learned that firsthand during a site study to determine the cause of a floor collapse in a pig barn.

One end of the pig barn housed 200 sows and their suckling piglets.  The other end of the barn contained 150 young pigs in the 60-pound range.

A section of floor containing the 150 young pigs collapsed, dropping 30 of the pigs into the 5-foot depth of liquefied hog excrement being stored in the subfloor holding tank.  The farmer and his helper were able to rescue six frantically swimming and clawing pigs from the excrement, but sadly, 24 pigs drowned.  In preparation for my site study, the farmer removed the dead pigs and all but a 4-inch depth of excrement from the holding tank.

Donning a Tyvek suit, rubber boots, gloves, goggles and a respirator, I climbed down into the holding tank.  Slipping around in the dark, I tried not to fall into the excrement and hoped that the rest of the floor wasn’t going to collapse.

This is how you mentally psych up for a gross site study — you put your mind off of the intolerable conditions while obtaining photos and observations.  But once finished, reality sets back in and a little voice says, “I gotta get out of here!”  As I hastily backed my way toward my ladder to exit the pit, I almost tripped over something.  I shined my flashlight down to see a bloated dead pig.

The fresh air smelled great as the farmer hosed me down outside of the barn and I removed my excrement-stained Tyvek suit.  During the 70-mile drive home, the open truck windows did not do much to help relieve my burning eyes and nostrils, or the strong odor on my clothes.  When I got home, I hopped into a long, hot shower in the shortest turnaround time in the industry.

“…reality sets back in and a little voice says, ‘I gotta get out of here!'”

Termite Terror
By Patrick Carl, P.E., Indianapolis, Indiana

I encountered something pretty creepy shortly after I was hired on with Donan in 2007.  The adjuster needed to know the cause of mold in the house, and whether there was termite damage. The stalactites I found hanging from the floor joists were actually mud tunnels made by termites. Needless to say, I was a little creeped out! This was my first experience with termites, and I am happy to say that I’ve not had a similar encounter since.


Dotted Eyes and Empty Skin
By Craig DeWitt, Ph.D., P.E., Greenville, South Carolina

Dotted Eyes
I was asked to determine the source of odors emanating from a crawlspace in a seafood restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina. The hatch to the crawlspace was through the restaurant floor so I had to do my inspection before the restaurant opened.  I pried open the hatch and stared down into a pool of nasty water.  I didn’t know how deep the water was, and I hadn’t brought my hip boots.  So I did my best to lean in and look around.  The first thing I saw was several pairs of bright dots in the distance.  Every once in a while one of the dots disappeared for a second.  After my eyes became better adjusted, I realized the dots were connected to rats, and were the reflections of their eyes.  Then I noticed water running down a slope in the crawlspace from under the kitchen area.  A drain pipe had broken and kitchen food waste was being discharged into the crawlspace.  Solving the source of the odor was easy.  Getting rid of the odor was going to be another story.

Empty Skin
I recently bought and remodeled an 1890 house near Clemson, South Carolina. The house had been abandoned for 15 years before I obtained it, and kudzu was growing in the upstairs windows.  During my remodeling, I found several pieces of snake skins, which is not unexpected in an old abandoned house.  During re-wiring, I had to pull wires through the crawlspace, poke them up through the floor, crawl out, go inside, pull and push the wires up through the second floor, crawl back through the crawlspace to feed more wire, over and over again to get the house wired.  On one visit to the crawlspace, I found a very large, whole snake skin which made me pause for a second and look around a little.  I could feel the claustrophobia setting in.  Shaking that off, I hurriedly fed the wire and went back upstairs.  Shortly thereafter, I realized that I had been in that part of the crawlspace the day before and the snake skin was not there then.


We hope you enjoyed Part 2 from Strange Encounters in a Crawlspace. Be sure to check out next month’s Tales from the Field!

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