Southeastern Idaho authorities recovered the body of a missing Brigham City man from inside his sunken truck after draining a Lava Hot Springs sewage treatment pond Wednesday.
Bannock County Sheriff's Capt. Kevin Fonnesbeck confirmed that the rig of 61-year-old Shelby Whitaker had been discovered in the partially drained pond late Wednesday morning. Just before noon, he said, the vehicle was towed out of the pond and examined, and Whitaker's body was found inside.
"I can confirm, that we have recovered his body," Fonnesbeck said. "Right now, there doesn't appear to have been any foul play, but we'll wait for the coroner's autopsy results" before making an official declaration of accidental death.
Rick Whitaker, a first cousin and chief executive officer of Brigham City-based Whitaker Construction Co., said he had been informed just before noon that Shelby Whitaker's remains had been recovered from the truck.
"I heard it from our safety officer on the site that they had gotten the truck exposed and that he was inside," Rick Whitaker said. "We're just stunned. You've got a company and a whole family here in mourning."
Earlier, Fonnesbeck said that recovery of the truck was turning out to be a painstaking effort due to hazardous materials concerns. A hazmat team was dispatched to the site earlier Wednesday as a precaution.
Authorities had ordered the pond, filled with raw sewage, drained as part of the search for Whitaker, who was reported missing after failing to show up for work Monday in Lava Hot Springs. The construction worker was last seen Saturday.
Fonnesbeck said Whitaker's co-workers were alarmed when he failed to show up at the sewage treatment plant, where they were doing upgrades and repairs. They called 911.
As part of the search, authorities had asked for the public's help in locating Whitaker's white, F-350 extended cab truck. The vehicle has Whitaker Construction logos on its side. Fonnesbeck confirmed Wednesday that the same vehicle was found in the pond, which became a focus of the search after tire tracks leading up to it were found Tuesday.
Rick Whitaker said his cousin and crew had been working in Lava Hot Springs for two months, and that it appeared the truck had somehow slipped off an access round that runs around the pond. Fonnesbeck said it appeared from the tracks that perhaps the truck had been backing up and gone too far onto the pond's slick, plastic liner and then slipped under the surface.
"How this happened [is] the number one question for all of us here [at Whitaker Construction]," Rick Whitaker said. "He's been driving that road for a couple months."
Shelby Whitaker had worked for the family-founded business for nearly 40 years, Rick Whitaker said, and had a solid reputation for his hard work as a superintendent and field operator alike.
"I grew up with Shelby," he added. "He loved riding his Harley motorcycles. His word was his bond, he was that kind of guy, one of those types of people. He will be missed."