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updated: 8/8/2012 1:18 PM

Woman, 76, falls through manhole in Palatine

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Without a cellphone, a 76-year-old woman would likely be dead after falling through an uncovered manhole behind a Palatine grocery store Monday morning.

The development group that owns the land at the southeast corner of Dundee and Hicks roads was notified of the missing cover on Friday but did not order a replacement until after the woman fell through, according to police.

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It is unclear where the woman was headed, but at about 10 a.m. on Monday she fell 12-feet through the hole in an area behind the Jewel-Osco, said Palatine police Cmdr. Tom Murphy.

Not only was the woman injured, but she was unaware of where she was, Murphy said.

The woman was able to get through to an emergency dispatcher from the bottom of the hole and was able to provide the dispatcher with a general description of where she was while crews searched for her.

Police and fire crews responded to the area but struggled to locate the uncovered hole and almost called off the search, Murphy said. He said that after a certain amount of time, fire officials thought the call might have been a hoax.

"The whole (fire) department was looking," Murphy said. "Police were looking, too. She couldn't explain where she was."

Dispatchers with the Northwest Central Dispatch were able to pinpoint the location of the woman's cellphone through the signal, and emergency crews located her shortly after, said Palatine Fire Capt. Anthony Lavacchi.

"Dispatchers did a great job," he said.

Palatine firefighters went down into the hole to treat the woman for her injuries and immobilized her in a harness before lifting her out.

"(The Batallion Chief) said if she hadn't had a cellphone -- because of the location of the hole -- nobody would have heard her and she might have expired down there," Murphy said. "She's very lucky she had the cell."

Fire officials said the woman's injuries were nonlife-threatening, and she was treated at Northwest Community Hospital.

Police said the group that owns the property, DiMucci Cos., was notified about the missing manhole cover on Friday by a third-party. The group ordered a new cover for the hole Monday after the accident occurred but before police had notified them, Murphy said.

Police are unsure if the accident prompted them to order the cover, or if they were unaware before ordering, according to Murphy.

DiMucci Cos. could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

At some point over the weekend, someone had covered the hole with a crate or box to mark it, but that marking was gone when the woman fell through, Murphy said.

Police said it is unclear how long the manhole had been uncovered and there have not been any reports of other manhole covers gone missing.

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