As quickly as they and city maintenance crews could respond, traffic cones were placed and vehicles from log trucks to minicars were routed onto the inside shoulder of the road.
“I passed over that spot around 8 this morning, and I noticed a bump that hadn’t been there yesterday,” said Anna Sayre, who works at the University of Mississippi. “I didn’t think anything of it until I got to work and started hearing about the sinkhole.
“I’m thankful to be one of the many people who weren’t hurt,” Sayre added. “You hear of things like this happening, but it’s usually discovered because a car crashes into it.”
City Engineer Bart Robinson said his first fear was that a water main had somehow burst uphill, but the culprit appeared to be a 24-inch culvert buried 31 feet below the highway, which had separated, causing a slow erosion. Mississippi Department of Transportation crews brought a trackhoe to further excavate the hole so the cause could be ascertained and corrected. An impromptu traffic lane was built farther into the median so vehicles could pass at a distance that would be safer both for motorists and for the workers.
Asked for a timetable, Robinson said it was purely a guess that the work might be finished sometime today.
Mitch McCoy of Thaxton had already gone to work at Discount Lumber on the west end of Oxford and was driving back east to accompany a co-worker who was taking his own vehicle to the mechanic.
“I saw these vehicles in front of me, and it looked like they were hitting a speed bump. It was kicking their rear ends way up in the air,” he said. “I pulled beside it, and (the hole) was the size of a dinner plate. It wasn’t very big at all, but I could see it was a sinkhole that was going to cave in, so I backed my truck up and turned it sideways across the highway and got out.”
Drivers were facing into a rising sun, and several noticed McCoy waving in the middle of the highway before they noticed his SUV in the road. Some went around, he said, and came perplexingly close to the sinkhole.
“I walked over and looked at it and realized, man, that’s seven or eight feet deep. When I took a few steps back toward my truck, it gave way, and I turned around and it was like 10 feet in diameter then,” he said.
Shortly after, Oxford Police officers positioned their cruisers in front of the hole, and emergency messages began going out.
“One of the police officers walked up and said, ‘Wow, man – if somebody had hit that at a good speed, it would’ve killed somebody,’” McCoy said.
One of those people was Pamela Grafton, who was taking her 15-year-old son, Cole, to school.
“We were afraid we were going to hit him, because he was in the highway,” she said of McCoy. “If his car had not been stopped, we would have hit the sinkhole. We’re so thankful for God’s protection and for (McCoy). In an instant, things can change. I’m just counting my blessings.”
McCoy said his work schedule keeps him from many volunteer opportunities.
“My life consists of going back and forth to work. I work three jobs, so I don’t have a lot of time to do anything, so I made a decision that I’m going to be that guy who stops and gets two-by-fours or whatever may be in the road out of the way so people don’t get hurt,” he said. “It ain’t a lot, but it’s something. I don’t know that I saved anybody’s life; I was just doing what needed doing.”