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Brigham City man found dead in toxic pond near Lava Hot Springs

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 17 2012 5:57 p.m. MDT

LAVA HOT SPRINGS, Idaho — A Brigham City man last seen at work on Saturday was found Wednesday at the bottom of a toxic pond in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho.

Shelby Whitaker, 61, worked for Whitaker Construction Company for 43 years. Workers were concerned for him when he didn’t show up to work on Monday.

“(We) had one of our other employees out walking around the one pond and found some tracks going into the pond, and that’s when we noticed debris floating in the water,” said Rick Whitaker, CEO of Whitaker Construction Company and Whitaker’s cousin.

Authorities began to drain the pond Monday. “It’s got a lot of biochemical and things in there that they don’t even want exposed to our skin,” Bannock County Sheriff's Capt. K. G. Fonnesbeck said.

The truck was found under 14 to 16 feet of toxic sludge. Once the truck was found, it took a while before authorities could get close to it and see if Whitaker was inside because the windows in the vehicle were frozen over.

Investigators don’t know how he ended up in the pond. It is unclear why or how he got off the access road — a road he had driven many times.

“The access road itself was not slippery,” Whitaker said. “We are lining all the sewage treatment pond, and the pond that his truck went into had already been completed and once the truck hit that liner, I mean, it’s just a real thick heavy duty plastic, and it’s hard to get traction on.”

Shelby Whitaker had been up in Idaho for the past three months with a crew that was lining all the sewage treatment ponds. He was an excellent employee who was very dependable, Rick Whitaker said.

Authorities are waiting for the coroner’s report. Whitaker leaves behind four children.

“Everyone in the company is very, very sad,” Rick Whitaker said. “It’s going to really affect our company for a while.”

E-mail: syi@ksl.com

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