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Two Tampa Bay families reeling from deaths in Lake Placid accident

Elba Chubey couldn't understand why she couldn't reach her son.

The two normally spoke at least a couple of times a day, but when Chubey tried to contact him Thursday afternoon, her calls went straight to voice mail.

Worried, Chubey called her son's company, United Fire Protection in St. Petersburg, to see if it could reach him.

That's when she learned he had just been in an accident while on a job in Lake Placid.

Authorities say a 300,000-gallon water tank ruptured at the former Georgia Pacific Plant on State Road 70 west of U.S. 27.

Killed were Chubey's firstborn son, Jon Martinez, 34, of Tampa, and Jason Steele, 34, of Spring Hill.

"I just lost it," said Chubey, 54. "He was just a wonderful human being. Every mother says that, but this guy was special. We're devastated."

United Fire Protection posted a message on its website announcing the death of the men, described as valued employees.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Mr. Martinez and Mr. Steele," the message reads.

According to news reports, the men had been working on a nearby pump Thursday afternoon when the tank burst.

Water then rushed into the concrete block building Martinez and Steele were working in.

It collapsed.

Local, state and federal officials are investigating the incident.

Chubey said she has many questions. Right now, though, the accident isn't her focus.

"I don't even know if I want the answers," Chubey said. "This is the worst pain I have ever felt in my life."

Martinez, who just celebrated his birthday about a week ago, grew up in the Town 'N Country area.

He studied industrial electricity at Tampa Bay Tech and graduated in 1995.

He had three children: Angelique, 14; Christian, 11; and Alyssa, 2.

His family said he loved his job.

Steele leaves behind a wife and three children, his family said. They were too distraught to provide an interview Saturday.

On an online guest book, friends and family wrote that Steele was a family man and good friend.

Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8643. Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.

Two Tampa Bay families reeling from deaths in Lake Placid accident 04/09/11 [Last modified: Saturday, April 9, 2011 10:28pm]
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