NBC Boston Investigators: Manhole Danger

A missing manhole cover is once again calling into question your safety on the road.

One Massachusetts man feels he is being hit with a double whammy -- after hitting a manhole cover, he's now being taken down a rabbit hole in search of help.

It was a scary moment for Matt Chapman in the snowstorm of Feb. 13. Pictures from that night show the manhole, but the cover is tossed about 20 feet up ahead.

"I was traveling about 15 miles per hour and I heard a 'ka-boom,' and the whole car shook," said Chapman. "It was a really loud bang."

Chapman, on his way home from work, had just exited Interstate 93 onto Dascum Road in Andover. He says it actually shook his car.

"There was a big thud," he said. "I bounced and I think I hit my head on the ceiling."

That's when he got out to see what he'd just hit.

"I'm walking, and all of a sudden, my leg just dropped out from underneath me," he said. "I was just falling into something and I was clawing, and my cell phone went flying off into the snow."

In the dark, snowy conditions, he literally walked into the manhole.

"It's an open manhole with a raging river of water flowing through it," he recalled. "It was like raging whitewater rapids, and there was no ladder to get out."

Terrified and shaking, he called police.

"I imagine if I'd fallen into that water, I'd been swept away and they'd found my car and wondered where I went," he said.

Manhole covers became a top issue for the state last year after 35-year-old Caitlin Clavette was killed when a manhole cover flew into her windshield.

The state then promised to check their 1,143 manholes around Boston and begin bolting them down. Then, in April, two months after her death, a state trooper spotted a loose manhole cover on Route 1 in Saugus. A state subcontractor working on the road was suspended.

MassDot tells NBC Boston Investigators manholes around Boston are checked every two years. But there are no federal guidelines for how often they should be checked throughout the state. That is concerning to Chapman, who says with a Park and Ride right there, anyone could have fallen into this manhole and could again.

Hitting the 200 pound manhole cover, he says, put his brand new 2017 Kia in the shop for weeks. It was out of alignment with body damage and a punctured oil pan.

The bill was over $1000.

"I do have insurance, but I have a $1,000 deductible," he said. "Plus, I would have a single car accident on my record with higher rates because of it."

He called the City of Andover and was told it's not the city's responsibility. He then called MassDOT and National Grid, which owns the manhole, but he had no luck.

"It's like I'm a ping pong ball," he said. "I get bounced from one agency to the next and I haven't gotten any answers as of yet."

After NBC Boston Investigators contacted MassDOT, Chapman now has a claim filed with the state, but there's no guarantee MassDOT will pay for the damage.

NBC Boston Investigators have repeatedly asked MassDot how many of the manholes are bolted down, their promise after the death last year. A spokesman says he didn't know and that there is "no guarantee" of an answer. That was five days ago.

Contact Us