An 83-year-old woman suffered fatal injuries in a century-old house on Park Avenue in Salem, South Carolina, after falling through a weakened floor structure into a previously unknown well shaft.
The incident occurred around 2 p.m. on Sunday, November 26, 2023, as Dorothy Louise Downey was helping her daughter move from the house.
The house was built in 1920. Its construction concealed a 48-foot deep well shaft, unknown to the family residing there. As Downey crossed the kitchen floor, it gave way beneath her, causing her to plummet 4-stories into the shaft.
Downey’s daughter conducted a frantic search in the crawl space under the house but was unable to locate her mother. Subsequently, a rescue team was summoned to the scene.
The effort to recover Downey, undertaken by the Salem Fire Department and Oconee Emergency Services personnel, lasted nearly four hours. Rescuers eventually retrieved her body from the well.
Karl Addis, the Oconee County Coroner, declared the death accidental, attributing it to blunt force injuries sustained from the fall. In his 31-year career, Addis said that he had never encountered a similar case.
The incident has highlighted potential hazards in older homes, especially those with historical elements that might conceal dangers like unused well shafts.