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Paul Coates -- Confidential File, January 8, 1959

January 8, 2009 |  2:00 pm


Wife Tells of Mate Who Died, and Lived

Paul_coatesBAKERSFIELD, Jan. 7 -- Buried alive for hours and given up for dead, Leslie O. Stafford, a construction workman, was dramatically rescued today from the bottom of a 24-foot-deep collapsed cesspool.

* *
Yesterday I called the wife of the man who "came back" from his grave.

"Mrs. Stafford, how's your husband now?"
"They've still got him in the hospital and he's still spitting up dirt -- but that man, he's going to be all right."

"That's fine."
"It's like he's always telling me. 'I'm too young to die.' I guess now, thank the Lord, I can believe him."

"Tell me, Mrs. Stafford, when did you first learn about the accident?"

1959_0107_mirror_cover "Let's see. I've got so much on my mind now. It was 4:30 yesterday afternoon. I'd just come home from the potato shed. That's where I'm working. Cutting potatoes.
"The phone rang and my daughter answered it and handed it to me. It was Leslie's boss and he said, 'Your husband's been in a cave-in.'
"I answered, 'Is he okay?' and he answered, 'I don't think so. He's been buried for two hours.' That's when I just went to pieces. I started screaming and went hysterical."

"Do you remember what happened next?"
"They sent a car over from the scene to take us over there. I asked the lady who came, 'Is he all right?' She told me 'no.' But now my friend Holly Odle and her sister were at my house, trying to calm me down. My daughter went with the people to the scene, but I wouldn't go.
"I didn't want to see them take his body out."

"Then you were sure he was dead?"

1959_0107_runover "Well, I prayed. I kept walking up and down and shouting and praying.
"Holly kept saying that maybe he'd be breathing when they brought him up, but I guess -- well, I just figured it was impossible."

"When did you learn that he was alive?"
"We had all the news broadcasts on. Must have been 7:30 when they said on the radio he was alive. Oh, God. Right then the phone rang. It was another friend to say the same thing.
"They told me to go to Kern General Hospital to wait and see him. We hurried over there and waited and waited. Then they called and said, 'No. Go to Bakersfield Memorial.' So we went over there and waited some more.
"Finally they said they couldn't get his foot free. To go to the scene. It would be three hours, at least, before they got him.

'I Knew He'd Be Calling'
"They wouldn't let me go near the hole. I wanted to see him because I knew he'd be calling for me, but they had me wait in a shack there till they brought him up."

"When was that, Mrs. Stafford?"
"That was 4:05 this morning. I remember that. I got up to him and he was spitting out sand and dirt.
"The first thing he asked for was a cigarette.
"Then he asked for me.
"Then, later, you know what he told me? He said that all the time he was down there he was worrying about me. He was worried how I'd be worried about him.
"I do that. Even when he's a few minutes late from work, I worry. I'm just that way."