AYUMI NAKANISHI / ANAKANISHI@STARBULLETIN.COM
Conrad Reyes helped the fire fighters find the body of a 55-year-old male bottle collector, who was apparently looking for antique bottles in the trench at Waipahu Sugar Mill construction area and buried under the trench when it collapsed.
Waipahu cave-inThe death of 55-year-old Billy Bayudan, who was smothered under several feet of earth while hunting for collectible bottles, has shaken Hawaii's bottle-collecting community.
sparks fear in collectors
A bottle collector's death makes
others more aware of safety
By Leila Fujimori
"I've never heard of anyone being buried. Nobody's ever died in Hawaii (digging for bottles), as far as I know," said longtime bottle collector and dealer Paul Wroblewski.
Some in the small community knew Bayudan and were shocked and saddened by the news.
Bayudan was digging in a trench at a large Waipahu construction site with a friend at about 7 p.m. on Sept. 20 when the accident occurred. His body was found Sept. 21 face down, his hand closest to the surface, under about five to six feet of dirt, in a 20-foot deep trench.
Friends said Bayudan usually would dig for old marbles and other collectibles.
While police said he was homeless, acquaintances say he had a home and a monthly income, but often slept at an old pump station near the Waipahu Street construction site.
Bayudan, who is survived by a wife and daughter, died of suffocation, according to the medical examiner's office.
The incident is a harsh reminder to bottle diggers, who range from the homeless to bankers, of the inherent dangers of their hobby.
"They're kind of spooked about it," said Patrick Lum, treasurer of the Hawaii Historical Bottle Collectors Club, which has about 70 members. "They know this place was dangerous, so a lot of club members quit going there. It's not worth getting killed over a bottle."
The accident scene had been a ravine where trash was dumped by those who lived at the Waipahu Sugar Mill plantation camp, Lum said. "It was a turn-of-the-century landfill."
Collectors have found gold coins there, but what is likely found there are soda and medicine bottles, and few have a large dollar value, the rarest bringing in $1,000 at most, Lum said.
Fire Chief Attilio Leonardi, a 30-year bottle collector and past club president, said the area had eight feet of fill above the dump, making it more dangerous than other dump sites with just a foot of fill.
He worries the incident "will bring a black eye to the collection of old bottles."
Others say it will make it more difficult to gain access to sites.
"There's less and less places to find them nowadays. I guess that's why people take chances," Wroblewski said.
A spokeswoman for the Waipahu property owner, Alexander & Baldwin, said the company regrets the accident, but noted it had posted trespassing notices, made periodic security patrols and had fenced the trench to keep trespassers out. (The fence was removed for rescue access Saturday.)
Collectors say every hobby has its risks, and most will continue digging.
Lum, however, stressed the club insists on following safety precautions: Always dig with friends, fill any holes created, and never tunnel or make a cave.
Police and fire officials had said Bayudan died when a tunnel or cave carved into the side of the trench collapsed.
But bottle digger Nolan Turner, who tried to save Bayudan, said the sides of the trench simply collapsed on him while digging deeper into the trench.
Turner is haunted by the accident.
"Firefighters said he died of suffocation, and he lived maybe two or three minutes," Turner said. "He must have suffered. Two or three minutes would have been enough time to dig. Had we known where he was, maybe we could've helped. That's the thing I can't get out of my mind."
Turner found Mario, Bayudan's friend, with one leg out and one leg stuck in the dirt, and extended his hand.
"He said 'No, don't help me, help Billy,'" Turner said.
Mario pointed toward the middle of the trench, the deepest part, obscured by a huge cloud of dirt.
"I started shoveling and shoveling, but the dirt kept falling in and I wasn't getting nowhere, and there was no sign of Billy," he said. "I was totally exhausted, so Mario tried digging too."
The men had one shovel between the two of them.
"The next day, when the rescue guys found him, he was just one foot behind Mario. He was pointing in the wrong place," Turner said, adding the dirt there was about two to three feet deep. "We were actually digging in the wrong place."
Turner spent 20 minutes digging. Finally, Mario said they could no longer help Billy. So Turner walked to a pay phone and made an anonymous 911 call, which police received at 8:25 p.m.
"I called 911 and nobody came. Nobody even showed up," Turner said.
Police went to the site, but when they arrived, no one was there to direct them to the location. Turner said police may have arrived while he was walking back from the pay phone, about 15 to 20 minutes away.
That night, Turner prayed his friend was possibly knocked unconscious, so he wouldn't have suffered.
"It shook me up that much for me not to dig anymore," he said.
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