Saturday, May 18, 2013

West, Texas Tragedy

During the evening of April 17, 2013, a fire broke out at a fertilizer plant at the north edge of the small Central Texas town of West, Texas.  First responders from several different jurisdictions responded to the fire.

Shortly after they arrived, while they were gallantly fighting to control the blaze, there were two earth-shaking explosions which took the lives of fourteen people.  Twelve of them were first responders, the other two, nearby residents.

From April 24 until May 3, Patriot Guard Riders, from all over Texas, attended  the funeral services of ten of the first responders.  Most of those funerals were held at St. Mary's Catholic Church of the Assumption in West, Texas, with burial at various area cemeteries, located in  bucolic farm land where black Angus cattle lounge, on a hot day,  in the shade of live oak  trees.

Kenneth Harris, Jr.
The first of the funerals was  for Captain Kenneth Harris, Jr. on Wednesday, April 24, at St. Mary's Catholic Church of the Assumption in West. Kenneth  was a Captain with Dallas-Rescue, having served that department for more than 31 years,  and who resided in West. He owned Harris Home Inspections and Construction with his family.  He loved  offshore fishing with his sons and spending time on his boat, the "Boots Up."  While he was under no obligation to respond to the fire, he did so.  His last valiant act.  He was 52 years old.  Surviving him are his wife of 28 years, Holly,  and three sons.  Captain Harris was laid to rest at Bold Springs Cemetery, West, Texas.

Joey Pustejovsky, Jr.
On Friday, April 26, a Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated for  Joseph F. Pustejovsky, Jr., aged 29.  "Joey" was the City Secretary of West since 2009.  He was a Volunteer Fire Fighter and the Treasurer of the West Fire Department.    He was a life member of St. Mary's Catholic Church of the Assumption where he started the youth ministry.  He was a member of the Knights of Columbus,  the County Line Aggie Club and the National Rifle Association.  He enjoyed hunting, golfing, working in his yard and was an avid A&M fan.    He is survived by his wife, Kelly,  and four children.

Cyrus Reed
After the service for Joey Pustejovsky, the Patriot Guard Riders rode, in formation, to Hillsboro, Texas for the funeral service of Capt. Cyrus Adam Reed, age 29.  His service was held at the Central Baptist Church in Hillsboro.  Cyrus was completing his last night of EMT basic training in West, Texas when the call came in of the fire at the fertilizer plant.   He responded from the classroom to the scene, where he helped in the effort to control the blaze.  Cyrus was a member of the Abbott Volunteer Fire Department, the Bynum Volunteer Fire Department and the West Ambulance Service.  He was an Eagle Scott in Troop 1110.

In the Bible, the book of John, Chapter 15 verse 13 reads "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." 

His survivors include his grandmother, his parents and a sister.

Buck Uptmor, Jr.
On Saturday, April 27, a Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated for  William R. "Buck" Uptmor, Jr.  Buck was a Volunteer Firefighter for the Abbott, Texas Fire Department.  He was 45 years old.  For over 25 years he owned and operated Uptmor Welding and Construction.  Buck loved hunting, fishing, watching his children's sporting events, coaching little league, and supporting his daughter in barrel racing.

Buck trained and jockeyed race horses and was the drummer for the Billy Uptmor and Makers band.  He loved to rodeo, and rode saddle broncs, bareback broncs and bulls.    He is survived by his wife, Arcy,  two sons and a daughter.  He was laid to rest at St. Martin's Cemetery at Tours, Texas.

On Monday, April 29, a joint Mass of Christian Burial was held for brothers Douglas Snokhous, aged 50, and Robert Snokhous, aged 48.   They were both Volunteer Firefighters with the West Fire Department.

Doug Snokhous
Doug was a Captain with the fire department.  He had worked for  Central Texas Iron Works for almost 32 years.  Doug loved spending time with his family, especially his seven-month old grandson.  He enjoyed hunting, golfing, fishing and cooking BBQ.  His passion was volunteering with the West Fire Department.   He is survived by his wife, Donna,  two daughters, two step-sons, a step-daughter and one grandson.

Bob Snokhous

Bob Snokhous was also a Captain with the fire department.  He had received an Associate Degree from Texas State Technical College in Waco.  He was a project manager with Central Texas Iron Works.  Bob was a member of St. Mary's Catholic Church of the Assumption and a member of the Knights of Columbus West Council #2305.  He loved hunting and outdoor BBQ's.    He is survived by his wife, Alison,  a son and two daughters.  

Jimmy Matus
On Tuesday, April 30, a Mass of Christian Burial was held  for Jimmy Ray Matus, aged 52.  Jimmy had worked at his family business, Westex Welding and Fire Apparatus for forty years, managing the business for the last twenty. He was a Volunteer Firefighter with the West Fire Department.  He had served on the West ISD school board.  He loved all his pets and farm animals and was a generous and giving person.

 His flag draped coffin was transported to the St. Mary's Cemetery in an antique fire truck that he had refurbished and, until now, only he had ever driven.  He was preceded in death by his wife, Gail.  His survivors include his parents, a son and a daughter.

Cody Dragoo
A Mass of Christian Burial was held on Wednesday, May 1, for Cody Frank Dragoo, age 50.  Cody graduated from Montana State with a degree in Agriculture and was a long time employee of the fertilizer company where he died when it exploded.  He was a Volunteer Fire Fighter with the West Fire Department and was very involved with the department's annual BBQ cook-off fund raiser.  Cody enjoyed hunting, fishing, cooking, watching NASCAR and being with his family and friends.   His survivors include his wife, Patty,  and two sisters.  He was laid to rest at the St. Mary's Cemetery.

Perry Calvin
On Thursday, May 2, funeral services were held for Perry Wayne Calvin, age 37, at the Central Baptist Church in Hillsboro, Texas.  At the time of his death, he was attending the Fire Academy and Emergency Medical Technician at Hill College.  He was a self -employed farmer and a Volunteer member of the Navarro Mills Volunteer Fire Department and the Mertens Volunteer Fire Department.  Perry enjoyed horseback riding, rodeos, fishing and spending time with is family.  Perry was laid to rest at Frost Cemetery near Frost, Texas.  His survivors include his wife of 10 years, Rebecca,  two sons and his father.  He and his wife were expecting another child about Thanksgiving.

Morris Bridges
On Friday, May 3, the last of the services was held.  A Celebration of Life Memorial Service was held  for Morris Wayne Bridges, Jr.  at the St. Mary's Catholic Church of the Assumption.

Morris was 41 years old at the time of his death.  He worked as a pipe fitter for Action Fire Pro of Waxahachie, Texas.  In his honor, the company closed the business for the day and sent every one of its service trucks  to West for the service.  The truck that Morris personally drove was decorated with a wreath, and his hard hat, in his memory.

Morris had been a volunteer with the West Fire Department for two years.  He loved to ride motorcycles, fishing, camping and the outdoors.   He is survived by his wife, Carmen, and three children.

After the service, his cremains were carried in a West Fire Truck to the Bold Springs Cemetery, just outside of West, where he was laid to rest within yards of Captain Harris.

Also killed in the explosion was Kevin Sanders, aged 33,  of the Bruceville-Eddy Volunteer Fire Department who worked with the West EMS.  He was attending an EMS class in West when he responded to the fire at the plant.  He taught veterinary  technician training at McClellan  Community College in Waco. He is survived by his wife, Sarah and their son Reeve.

Jerry Chapman also perished in the explosion.  Jerry, aged 26, was a member of the Abbott Volunteer Fire Department.  Jerry was an avid video gamer.  He had discovered his passion and was near the end of his training to be an EMT.  He is survived by his parents and grandparents.  

When duty calls me, Oh Lord, wherever flames may rage,

Give me the strength to save some life whatever be its age.

Help me embrace a little child before it is too late;

Or save an older person from the horror of that fate.

Enable me to be alert, Oh Lord, and guide my every move,

for life is so precious, please don't let us loose.

I want to fill my calling and to give the best in me

To guard my every neighbor and protect their property.

And if according to Thy will, that I must give my life,

Then with Thy protecting hand, My Lord, I pray thee,

protect my children and my wife.


Also killed, tragically, on that spring evening was Judith Ann Monroe, aged 65 who had moved to West in 2001, who enjoyed spending time with her family, especially her grandchildren.  She loved reading, solving word puzzles  and playing board games.

And, Mariano Saldivar, aged 57, who lived in a nearby apartment complex, perished that evening. His services were held at the St. Mary's Catholic Church of the Assumption.  He was a native of Mexico, and was a loving and faithful husband and father.

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