According to Durham Fire Department Battalion Chief Dan Curia, first responders received a call around 6 p.m. about workers trapped in a manhole located on Highway 70 near Leesville Road. The men, Jesus Martinez and Luis Gomez, were part of a crew laying pipe. They were about 12 feet deep in a manhole when they began to suffocate.
When rescuers arrived on the scene, Martinez and Gomez were dead.
"It was determined that it was a confined space issue," Curia said. "It initially started as a confined space rescue."
Firefighters recovered the victims' bodies just after 9 p.m.
A worker at the scene nearly collapsed from grief after realizing his coworkers were dead.
The men worked for Triangle Grading and Paving, a Burlington company with a history of safety violations, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The company was fined $57,000 last year for exposing employees to work hazards.
On Wednesday, the company released a statement that said in part, "We take great pride in our safety and education programs at Triangle. We do everything in our power to prevent injuries and deaths in a dangerous occupation."
"Over the past three years, we have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to ensure the safety of hundreds of employees," the statement went on to say. "Yesterday, a deadly incident occurred in spite of those efforts and we are now cooperating with the North Carolina Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Division's investigation of this matter and conducting our own investigation as well."
A representative with the company also said it has heard from Occupational Safety and Health Administration.