A Smithtown man has a strained Achilles tendon and a bruised kneecap after falling into a manhole on Monday. Justin Carey says he had exited his car to clear debris from the road, not realizing that the 12-foot-deep manhole was uncovered. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara; Photo credit: Justin Carey

A Smithtown man said he felt lucky to limp away from an unusual roadway incident this week with only a bruised knee and strained Achilles tendon.

Justin Carey, 49, a special-education teacher at Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School in Plainview, said he fell into an open 12-foot-deep manhole on Route 111 Monday morning after stopping to clear from the road what appeared in the pre-dawn darkness to be pieces of wood.

Parking just north of the Route 347 intersection, he took two steps out of his car and plunged, realizing only later that the "wood" was the roughly 3-foot wide, 300-pound manhole cover that had been split down the middle and knocked 8 feet from the hole, he said.

After his left leg stepped into void, he fell to his underarms. He said his right leg remained outside the hole and took the brunt of the fall.

Another man also on his way to work, Jim Murry, 66, of Setauket, saw what happened and said Carey "almost disappeared." Carey climbed out of the manhole but looked "shocked and in a lot of pain," said Murry, chief information officer for Catholic Health Services.

Suffolk police confirmed Thursday that they got a 911 call from Carey about a broken manhole cover at approximately 6:45 a.m. New York State Department of Transportation spokesman Glenn Blain wrote in an email that agency workers "replaced a damaged manhole cover on southbound Route 111 in Smithtown after being alerted to its condition by Suffolk County Police. We cannot confirm Mr. Carey’s account at this time."

Blain did not say how the manhole cover had been moved and split. AAA Northeast spokesman Robert Sinclair said he had seen cases "where road crews failed to ensure the cover was fully set and a truck came along and popped it into the air."

Justin Carey surveys the now-sealed manhole that he fell into...

Justin Carey surveys the now-sealed manhole that he fell into Monday morning while commuting to work on Rte. 111 in Smithtown. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

Carey said that after he emerged from the hole he hobbled to his car for a traffic cone to warn other motorists.

"If somebody would hit this at 30 miles per hour, it would either rip off the tire or the axle, or they stop short and cause a huge accident," he said.

Carey said he declined medical attention at the scene and drove himself to St. Catherine of Sienna Medical Center in Smithtown.

After X-rays on his knee, ankle and hip and a visit to an orthopedist, Carey said he was using a cane and in pain Thursday. Medical insurance will pick up most of the cost of treatment, he said, but he estimated he’d be out $2,000 between co-pays and lost income from three sick days.

Carey said he called the DOT "hoping they do the right thing" by paying the bills, he said, but got bad news Wednesday from the agency’s claims department: "They only pay for property damage."

Carey returned to the scene Thursday with a Newsday photographer and took photos of his own. They show a DOT truck and a manhole cover now sealed in place.

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