`Daddy, Get Me Out,' Says Lad Who Died In Sinkhole

NORTH BRUNSWICK, N.J. - A 7-year-old boy died yesterday after he was swallowed by a sinkhole while playing outside an apartment complex. Some 100 rescuers worked more than seven hours to dig Kwame Sharif out, but he was dead on arrival at the hospital.

The boy stuck his foot in a small hole in a courtyard of the North Brunswick Manor Apartments while playing with his twin brother, Kwasi, then the ground gave way.

Rescuers eventually found the body underground amid tree and root debris.

"He was located in the cavern," Mayor Paul Matacera said. "His body was dry, but there was a couple of inches of water. . . . He was slumped down in the water."

A neighbor said he and the boy's father tried to pull the child to safety, but couldn't reach him.

"His father and I were the first on the scene, and his hands were in the air. He said, `Daddy, get me out of here, there's snakes down here,' " said the neighbor, Gary Nelson. "We tried to grab his hand and the ground started giving under him."

Police arrived and they tried again.

"We tried to hold onto the police officer's feet while he reached into the hole, but we couldn't get to him," Nelson said.

Pinpointing gas and water lines in this central New Jersey town slowed rescue work. A backhoe was used to help dig, and firefighters extended a ladder into the hole and used shovels.

The boy's family watched the operation from their back porch and would not speak to reporters.

Authorities didn't know what caused the sinkhole. Police Sgt. Donald Conry said the earth may have collapsed because of recent heavy rains. He said police do not know of any construction or utility projects at the site.

Matacera said the area was mostly forest 10 or 15 years ago."We know there may have been an old farmhouse here, and a remote possibility of some wells," he said.

The mayor promised a full investigation.

"We will find out what caused this so it will not happen again anywhere in this township, or in this state, for that matter," he said. "I talk to you as a father."

Barry Green watched the rescue with his 3-year-old daughter.

"I'm kind of scared to let her play outside," he said. "You tell them not to go in the street. You tell them to play on the grass and you think they're safe."