ELGIN, Texas — Bastrop County officials have shared more information about how the bodies of three people and a dog ended up in a cistern in an Elgin corn field.
The Bastrop County Sheriff's Office (BCSO) said at around 1 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 9, it received a call that there were people trapped in a "hole" in the 300 block of New Trail in Elgin.
When first responders arrived on the scene, they discovered one person who said he was part of a hunting party and that the other three members of his party had fallen into a hole. Sheriff Maurice Cook said the hole turned out to be an underground cistern, which is a structure similar to a well that is used to store water. There were strong fumes, similar to those of a septic tank, coming from the cistern, according to the BCSO.
Cook said it appears that the group of people was out hog hunting on private property when when one of their dogs escaped from their truck and ran off. The group then chased after the dog and later found that it had fallen into the uncovered cistern.
Cook said it then seems that one of the hunters jumped into the cistern, which was even with the ground. The man was then trapped in the cistern, where the water level was about eight feet below the ground, according to Cook. The BCSO later learned that the water contained hydrogen sulfite gas.
Two other people from the hunting party, a man and a woman, then also jumped in the cistern, "possibly to rescue the first person," according to the BCSO. The fourth member of the party went to his truck to summon assistance and call 911.
"Because of the gas in the hole, we think – and we're speculating here, we'll let the autopsy bear this out. But we're speculating that the gas overcame them and they were not able to maintain any kind of buoyancy on top of the water, and therefore, they sank underneath the water," Cook said.
The sheriff said the three members of the party who were found in the cistern were from Florida and were hunting with the four person, a man from Red Rock, Texas, located in unincorporated Bastrop County. The three individuals have been identified as 37-year-old Delvys Garcia, 26-year-old Denise Martinez and 45-year-old Noel Vigil-Benitez. The dog also did not survive.
The BCSO said the recovery effort was hampered by the gas, the stagnation of the water and concerns about the integrity of the cistern's walls. The BCSO pumped the cistern, ventilated the air and flew a drone into the cistern to check the walls' integrity.
BCSO Investigator David Newman volunteered to go down into the cistern. With support from the Elgin Fire Department and the City of Elgin Utility crews, Newman was successfully lowered into the cistern and was able to recover the bodies of the three victims and the dog. The recovery effort was completed at approximately 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, according to the BCSO.
The three bodies were taken to the medical examiner's office after recovery efforts wrapped up and an autopsy has been ordered.
Cook said there is an indication that the property owner died before this incident took place, and the BCSO is investigating to determine who owns the property.
"This is a tragic event that does not need to be repeated, so if anyone has any kind of trap like this, they need to go ahead and cover it in order to protect the public," Cook said.
KVUE reached out to family members and friends of the victims, who call this tragedy a "huge loss for everyone."
The BSCO said investigation into the events that led to the victims becoming trapped in the cistern is ongoing "in order to confirm the reporting of the initial details."
A GoFundMe for Denise Martinez can be found here.