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Denton people come to relative’s aid

Profile image for By Megan Gray and Bj Lewis / Staff Writers
By Megan Gray and Bj Lewis / Staff Writers

Vic Burgess hurried from Denton to West on Wednesday night after learning his son had been seriously injured by the West Fertilizer plant explosion.

Burgess, a former Corinth mayor and former Denton County judge, learned his son Scott and his family were caught in the explosion, causing mild to serious injuries and the likely loss of one of his son’s eyes.

“The back of their house faced the fertilizer plant; it started out with a fire, and Scott had actually took a couple pictures from it,” Vic Burgess said. “He was standing by the back door when it exploded.”

Scott Burgess’ wife and 18-year-old son were in the back of the house when the blast occurred, Vic Burgess said.

He said his grandson was “the least injured of the three in the house. A roof [piece] fell and hit him in the head.

“He had to lift the stove off his mother, then they had to find Scott. He was under debris. The back door blew in and landed on him; it probably protected him from more injury.”

Vic Burgess’ son Steve said the entire back end of his brother’s home is gone.

“They were located about 150 to 200 yards away from the fertilizer plant, and there were no homes or anything between them,” said Steve Burgess, 158th District Court judge.

Vic Burgess said he and his wife left Denton at 9 p.m. Wednesday to join their son Scott, who finally got into a hospital room at about 2:30 a.m. after hours on the operating table.

Vic Burgess said his other two sons also drove to West from Denton on Wednesday night. Steve Burgess was in the middle of a trial, but “he wasn’t leaving until he saw his brother,” his father said.

Steve Burgess said the trial got off to a little later start Thursday morning. He first heard about his brother’s injuries at about 8 p.m. Wednesday, and that’s when he started making his way to West.

“I didn’t get back until about 6:30 or 7 a.m., and took a little nap to be refreshed for my trial,” he said about the delay.

He said the eye surgeon treating his brother’s injuries told him it was the worst damage he had seen.

“His glasses probably saved his right eye,” Steve Burgess said.

His sister-in-law was injured by shards of glass and had cuts all over her neck, he said. She was released from hospital care, since her injuries weren’t as critical as some of the others at Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center in Waco, where his brother is still in serious condition.

“He looks like he has been beat up all over his body with a 2-by-4 ...” Steve Burgess said.

He said the family dogs were missing, but family members spotted one on the news so they know at least one survived the blast.

A fund has been set up at NorthStar Bank of Texas in Denton under the name Scott Burgess. Any help from the community will be appreciated, the family said.

The Burgesses hope to help not only their family in West, but also the family’s close friends and neighbors.

“After my trial wraps, I am going back down to assess the damage more and to help some of my brother’s neighbors,” Steve Burgess said. “I know some only left their homes with maybe two diapers for their kids.”

Vic Burgess said there were fewer deaths than he initially expected based on devastation he’d seen on the news. He said some of his son’s neighbors were lost.

“We’re thankful they survived. They lost everything … house, cars and we don’t know about personal stuff, what’s left there,” he said. “They walked away with their lives — you have to be grateful for that.”

“I’m thrilled to death my prayers were answered and they are still alive,” Steve Burgess said.

Recent transplant

Assistant Chief Deputy Randy Plemons with the Denton County Sheriff’s Office is no stranger to McLennan County, home to West.

Plemons worked with the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office for 25 years before relocating to serve under William Travis, who took over as Denton County sheriff in January.

Plemons found out about the explosion at about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, when he saw a text message from his daughter at Texas A&M University.

“I had texts coming in before that, I am sure, but my cell wasn’t on me at the time,” he said.

The small community of West, at the most northern tip of the county, is known for its kolaches and for its strong Czech heritage, celebrated during WestFest over Labor Day weekend, he said.

Plemons said he has been in touch with friends and family back in his home county since the explosion.

“One of my good friends was about 200 yards from the blast, and when it occurred, he was knocked back and his windshield was blown out, cutting him all over his face,” he said.

Plemons said some extended family members were also affected by the blast.

“I was told they were able to make it out of their home before the place collapsed,” he said.

Some houses are standing, while others are leveled, Plemons said. While not everyone he knows is accounted for yet, he is grateful the fatality estimates are not higher.

“I’m just anxiously awaiting the list like everyone else,” Plemons said. “My heart and prayers go out to all.”

Sympathy and prayers

On the Denton Record-Chronicle Facebook page Wednesday night and Thursday, readers offered their sympathy to the residents of West. Others with family in the area shared relatives’ accounts of windows and doors being blown out of their homes.

Michelle Haney Williamson-Favors of Aubrey wrote: “so thankful they are all accounted for and safe. From my cousin’s last post … she’s sorry for friends who lost homes and for friends who lost their lives.

“Saw a post on another friend’s wall that their friends were sitting on the porch when the explosion happened, lifted their house off the foundation and when it came back down, it was destroyed.”

Chris Vochoska, an audio-video production teacher at Denton’s LaGrone Advanced Technology Complex, said by phone Thursday that West is his parents’ hometown. He said his cousin was driving home to Ross on a road about three miles from the fertilizer plant, and the explosion “pushed” his cousin’s truck off the road. His cousin was uninjured.

Another of his cousins, who lives in nearby China Spring, drove into West after the explosion.

“Report from cousin that many windows, doors, garage doors are damaged on many houses in town,” Vochoska wrote on the Record-Chronicle Facebook page. “It looks like a war zone.”

He said another cousin lived just a few blocks from the blast and lost his home.

Vochoska said family members have reported that his aunt Geri Vochoska, who was in a retirement facility in West, is unaccounted for. He said family members believe she’s OK.

“We haven’t heard any news about her yet, so there’s some concern there about her safety and well-being,” he said.

He also urged neighboring communities to offer help.

“If people were hurt or injured in the community, it’s really going to affect their lives,” he said. “Anything people could do to help or donate ... would be a blessing.”

Staff writer Britney Tabor contributed to this report.

BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjLewisDRC.

MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885 and via Twitter at @MGrayNews.