Vacationing man dies after sand dune tunnel collapses on him

Fire rescue crews, family dig man from 4 feet of sand by hand, officials say

By Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - A Texas man who was vacationing in Florida died after deputies said a tunnel he'd dug in a dune collapsed on him on Crescent Beach over the weekend, according to his wife. 

Rescue crews were called about 1:40 p.m. Sunday after Lee Goggin, 35, became trapped and had to be dug out of at least 4 feet of sand by hand, St. Johns County deputies said.

He was pulled unconscious from the dune and rushed to Flagler Hospital in critical condition, deputies said.

On Tuesday, Goggin's widow posted on Facebook, saying, "Lee Goggin, my best friend, my partner, my better half, my comedic relief, my everything is in the arms of Jesus."

SWEAT, a fitness center in Dallas where Goggin worked, posted on Facebook, "One of our most beloved trainers, Lee Goggin has passed away. If you met him you can't forget him."

A GoFundMe page set up by Goggin's family asked for prayers for his widow and their three children, ages 4, 2 and 8 months.

Goggin's sister told deputies that their family was headed to Disney World on vacation and had stopped at the beach near the Spyglass Condominiums in St. Augustine to let the children run and play for a bit before continuing on to Orlando.

Goggin's family said that, as the children were playing, Goggin started to dig a tunnel in the soft, white sand of a dune next to a public beach access ramp. At one point, one of the children went into the tunnel, but then got out, deputies said.

According to the family, Goggin turned around in the tunnel and started digging backward when the dune above collapsed on him, completely covering him.

Goggin's sister said she saw the collapse and screamed for help. Goggin's father, brother-in-law and other family members frantically tried to dig him out by hand and using a skimboard, according to an incident report.

The family said they realized the seriousness within a minute of trying to dig and called 911.

Rescue arrived and helped dig Goggin out. According to the report, about 3 to 4 feet of compacted sand was removed before they found Goggin's head.

Once he was pulled out, rescue began treating him on the beach for critical injuries. He was carried to an ambulance and rushed to the hospital, where he died several days later, his family said.

Deputies said they filled in the hole after the scene was cleared.

University of North Florida civil engineering professor Dr. Nick Hudyma used building a sandcastle as an analogy for what he believes happened to Goggin.

“If you have some nice moist sand, you can make beautiful sand sculptures or sandcastles that have vertical walls,” Hudyma said. “However, if you change the moisture in the sand, so, for instance, the sand begins to dry out or it starts raining, what you’ll notice is your sandcastle is going to fall apart.”

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