Portland homeowner worried years after neighbor died in sinkhole

Portland homeowner worried years after neighbor died in sinkhole »Play Video
Pat Mashofsky

PORTLAND, Ore. - Pat Mashofsky’s always wondered whether she has any cesspoosl or cisterns lurking under the lawn outside her southwest Portland home.

“I know there’s cisterns, there’s wells and there’s cesspools,” she said.

There’s a good reason she’s worried. Mashofsky remembers what happened to her next door neighbor.

“That was not just a trauma,” Mashofsky says. “I mean it was an amazing thing.”

There was a hole in her neighbor’s back yard, surrounded by warning tape, where police found her neighbor Michael Zerwas dead in the water at the bottom.

Zerwas apparently tossed his crocs out from down below, trying to get noticed. He’d told neighbors he noticed water bubbling up in his backyard. The ground opened up and Zerwas fell unnoticed into an old cistern or cesspool. Zerwas died from hypothermia and drowning.

Using Portland’s mapping website, PortlandMaps.com, we checked her current property just like any Portland homeowner can do.

There were four plumbing and sewer connection permits from the 1970s for her house, which was built in the 1940s.

But there’s no sign of a decommissioned cesspool or septic system. That means there’s likely one still somewhere under her yard.

We decided to check out Mashofsky’s previous home in southwest Portland.

There was historical paperwork available online. It included a note that the home’s cesspool had been drained and filled in. It’s been decommissioned.
But Pat Mashofsky doesn’t think many of her neighbors have checked their property.

"I don’t think they have any idea,” Mashofsky says. “I doubt that most of these are decommissioned. I don't know what would trigger the decommissioning.”