© 2012 Idaho Press-Tribune

MELBA — A sinkhole on Butte Road near Melba swallowed a car and cost a woman her life early Saturday morning, Canyon County Sheriff Chris Smith said.

Nampa Highway District director Casey Bequeath said gopher runs were to blame for the collapse that killed Sonia Lopez, 32, of Melba. Irrigation water from a nearby farmer’s field likely ran through the rodents’ tunnels, weakening ground beneath the street.

No one else was in the vehicle, Smith said, and no other vehicles were involved. Officials estimate the time of the crash at between 4 and 4:30 a.m. Lopez was dead when responders arrived.

The resulting hole, he said, was about 15 feet wide and 40 feet long. Crews reopened the road around noon Saturday, and completed repairs Tuesday.

“Our hearts go out to that family,” Bequeath said “If we’d have known there’d be a road collapse, we would have fixed it immediately, but it was an unknown. We didn’t have any idea that the road was going to collapse.”

Problems like this are difficult to detect ahead of time, Bequeath explained. Highway District officials constantly travel the roads in their jurisdiction to look for problems, and three district employees drive that very stretch of Butte Road almost every day during their commutes.

But despite the structural risk posed by gopher tunnels, they’re all but invisible until after the damage is done.

“We have no idea if there’s a gopher hole up there in a farmer’s field, or the middle of his waste ditch. We don’t step on private property,” Bequeath said. “If we see anything unknown, we take care of it right away. But unfortunately, we couldn’t tell.”


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