Death From Below: Septic Tank Tragedies, 32 Years Apart

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 10.55.48 PM

In case you haven’t seen the news lately, a 5-year-old boy in Dublin, VA was found dead in a septic tank after going missing for several days. The boy’s parents were charged with abuse and neglect in a Pulaski County courthouse.

Washington Post screencap.
Washington Post screencap.

The story bares a striking resemblance to a similar incident at the farthest edge of the DC corridor in Stafford over thirty years ago. Richard Stanley Samperton, a 4-year-old, was found dead in April 1983 after he fell into an open septic tank at a Stafford County trailer park. According to the official report made by sheriff’s deputies, the boy and his friend managed to roll back a large concrete block of a “makeshift plywood lid that had been placed over the tank.” The boy then jumped into the tank “for no obvious reason.” His companion soon called for help and alerted Samperton’s mother of his whereabouts. The manager of the trailer park found a ladder and fished the young boy out, where he was soon revived and sent to nearby Potomac Hospital in Woodbridge.

Unfortunately, it was too late.

Samperton died from the injuries he suffered during the fall into the 4,000-gallon tank at the Widewater Trailer Court. The area is today known as the Widewater Mobile Home Park.

Samperton mother at the site of her son's death (Washington Post screencap)
Samperton mother at the site of her son’s death (Washington Post screencap)

Samperton’s death shocked the quiet trailer community. His obituary in the Washington Post was short and non-descript. His death sparked the Stafford County Board of Supervisors to begin safety inspections of all septic tanks in mobile home parks, even if the county’s director of code compliance admitted that such inspections were outside their jurisdictions. According to then County Administrator Richard Bain, the health department had very little authority to oversee inspections of tanks at mobile home parks. Where then did the authority and responsibility truly rest?

According to one supervisor for the health department, the responsibility fell on the property owner. “If someone were to fall on my steps, I am responsibility and this is the same thing,” he said. Local police continued to investigate the incident.

The property owner of the trailer park quickly denied any responsibility for the accident, citing that county inspectors were cognizant of the issue months before the incident occurred in April. He also suggested that they had replaced with the faulty plywood substitute that caused the death of Samperton:

“As I understand it, the county was very familiar with the situation and came out about one a month and were aware of that situation [. . .] they were there when the old top broke.”

The issue went to the state senate. Virginia Senator John Chichester made a motion for the General Assembly to vote on legislation that would cut the red tape and require inspections of septic tank systems at mobile home parks. No matter what laws were put into action, both parents were brokenhearted at the loss of their son:

“Nobody here now will be with us when we have to sit down with his sister and tell her about what happened to her brother.”

Given the amount of information out there from the Northern Virginia Association of Real Estate, septic tanks are regularly inspected in Virginia by licensed professionals.

Source Information:

Waters, Beth. “Stafford Boy’s Death Spurs Inspection of Septic Tanks at Mobile Home Parks,” The Washington Post, May 4, 1983.

“Child Killed By Fall Into Septic Tank,” The Washington Post, April 16, 1983.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *