Knowing that her son was able to take a few steps from his hospital bed to a chair Wednesday morning was an immense relief, his mother said, but the enormity of his injuries also overwhelmed the Elgin woman.
Benjamin Hernandez, 15, was seriously hurt a day earlier when the car driven by his mother plunged into a sinkhole on a rural road south of the village of Burlington.
How a sinkhole happens• A sinkhole is an area of ground that has no natural external surface drainage -- when it rains, all of the water stays inside.
• Sinkholes are common where the rock below the land surface is limestone, carbonate rock, salt beds or rocks that can naturally be dissolved by ground water circulating through them.
• The most damage from sinkholes tends to occur in Florida, Texas, Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee and Pennsylvania.
• Sinkholes can vary from a few feet to hundreds of acres across and from less than 1 foot to more than 100 feet deep. Some are shaped like shallow bowls or saucers; others have vertical walls.
• New sinkholes have been correlated to land-use practices, especially from groundwater pumping and from construction and development practices. Sinkholes also can form when natural water drainage patterns are changed and new water-diversion systems are developed.
Source: U.S. Geological Survey
San Juanita Pineda was delivering newspapers in the pre-dawn hours and did not see the sinkhole that was 10 feet in diameter and deep enough that her Ford Taurus was lodged below ground level. A short time later, a pickup truck drove over the car in which the two were pinned.
Benjamin is in the pediatric intensive care unit of Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood with a spinal fracture, a broken rib and a broken jaw, his mother said. He also lost some teeth.
"He's not ready to be sitting up, so he's back to the stretch (position) until he gets a result on the spinal (test) again," she said.
All the feelings she had bottled up in the wake of the accident came rushing to the surface Wednesday, Pineda said.
"Today, I broke down crying," she said. "I took it harder than yesterday, because yesterday I had to be strong for him. Today, it was killing me inside, I had to let go."
Pineda said she didn't witness her son's first steps because she was in the hospital's emergency room, being treated for chest pains caused by the accident.
"I was out of luck because I didn't see him walk," she said.
Doctors told her she's OK despite extensive bruising, and prescribed pain medication, she said.
Pineda and Benjamin, who just finished his freshman year at Larkin High School, were headed north on Thomas Road near McDonald Road. The accident site is under the jurisdiction of Burlington Township, said Scott VerVynck, road maintenance supervisor for the Kane County Division of Transportation.
Burlington Township Highway Commissioner Jack Krueger did not respond to requests for comment.
VerVynck said the sinkhole likely was related to the torrential rains Monday and Tuesday. A culvert 5 feet in diameter was at the bottom of the sinkhole, he said.
"The rain might have washed out the (soil) material around the culvert," he said.
Sinkholes can also be caused by holes in culverts, where soil can find its way during heavy downpours causing the road above to collapse, he said.
They aren't common in the Chicago area, but in September 2012, a sinkhole began to open in a parking lot off Route 72 near Route 68 in East Dundee, damaging a business.
In Palatine, a 15-by 20-foot sinkhole that opened in July 2011 at Dundee and Hicks roads was determined to have been caused by a collapsed sewer after a major summer rainstorm.
A decade earlier, a 10-by-15-foot area of the parking lot outside Dundee Manor restaurant in East Dundee sank as much as 7 feet into the ground, causing three vehicles to fall in.
Sinkholes can happen naturally, as rain water causes fractures in the rock beneath the road, sucking down soil and causing the road to collapse, said Phil Carpenter, geology instructor at Northern Illinois University.
However, sinkholes in the Chicago area often are caused by holes in culverts and pipes, Carpenter said. "You may not see it surface for a while, until it reaches critical size and it collapses," he said.
Sinkholes can also be caused by water wells lowering the area's water level, Carpenter said.
For Pineda, the whys of the accident aren't as pressing as caring for her son, who can talk a little but doesn't remember what happened, she said.
Benjamin also was able to drink water and eat some soft food, she said.
Pineda said her son has medical coverage through public assistance, but no dental coverage.
Also, the Ford Taurus that Pineda was driving, which belongs to her uncle, is a total loss because it was covered only by liability insurance, she said.
But for now, all that matters is her son's recovery, she said. "Yesterday he was in a lot of pain. Today it seems like it's more under control," she said.
"Now we just got to wait to find out what there is to do. I'm staying here until he is released."