BY MARCI LAEHR TENUTA
CALEDONIA - A well-known and respected contractor lost his life Saturday when the underground hole he was working in collapsed.
Tony Azarian, 40, of Rochester and the noted family-run business, went to the site at 5 Mile Road and Highway 32 to cap off a sewer lateral, according to Caledonia police. Reports said he called his secretary at 3:50 p.m. and told her one side of the hole had collapsed.
A few minutes later, Azarian called someone from the sanitary district to come and inspect the capped sewer line, said Investigator Lisa Seils.
It was the last time anyone would speak to him.
When the sanitary district employee got out to the site shortly after 4 p.m., he found Azarian's truck running, but couldn't find him. Seils said the man left, made a phone call to inquire about Azarian's whereabouts, and returned to the hole.
Police and firefighters were called to the site at 4:46 p.m.
"Nobody else has seen him. It looks like he probably went down in there,'' said Sgt. Bob Stauss of the Caledonia Police Department. "The problem is his truck is still here and he came by himself.'
"We've tried to contact friends, relatives and co-workers,'' he said.
Many of Azarian's family members and friends were on the scene of the attempted rescue, waiting and hoping.
Firefighters from Caledonia, Mount Pleasant and the Racine Special Teams Unit worked diligently to lower boards, called shoring, into the trench to hold the earth back. Then they secured the boards with jacks and thick pieces of wood, to ensure they would not be trapped in a collapse while rescuing Azarian.
Around 6:30 p.m. firefighters working in the trench became visibly hurried. One grabbed a sled-like carrier and attached it to a red cable. The carrier was then lowered into the hole.
"They found him,'' Stauss said. "They're digging him out.''
Family and friends on the scene began to cry and hold each other. Most turned their back to the scene so they didn't have to watch firefighters pulled Azarian's body from the ground.
The body was found under five feet of loose dirt in the 10-foot-deep trench.
Azarian was loaded onto an ambulance at 6:45 p.m. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
A husband and father, Azarian was the business manager of Sam Azarian Trust. He and his four brothers, the sons of late Louise and Sam Azarian Sr., all worked together in the wrecking, cement and construction companies they owned jointly.
Their father, who first founded a wrecking company in Racine more than 40 years ago, died in 1982 of a heart attack.
Tony Azarian and his brothers - Harry, Sam, Rick and Steve - eventually branched out to construction and cement work. They also operate the Azarian Marina at 726 Water St.
Azarian was also an outstanding athlete who served on the Racine Youth Sports' board of directors and was a coach.
In the late 1970s and early '80s, he earned All-American honors in wrestling and All-Wisconsin State University Conference honors in football for three years in row at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
In 1997, he was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame.