Cox lends a helping hand in healing hometown West
Clay Cox was trying to figure out what he could do, how he could help.
The whole world was shocked at what it saw last Wednesday, when the fertilizer plant in West, Texas became an inferno that produced an atomic sized mushroom cloud, damaging a 37-block area in the small town, killing 14 and leaving hundreds homeless.
For the Rockdale baseball coach and West native, it was a little more than personal.
Sitting in his recliner Wednesday, Cox received a text message from a friend he went to school with.
“Did you hear the fertilizer plant exploded?” it said.
Cox went into panic mode.
His mom had moved to Marble Falls, so that was not a concern.
“I may not have any blood relatives there, but everyone I grew up with is my family,” he said. “Their kids are like my nieces and nephews.”
“I just wanted to hear, ‘Hey, we got out’. My phone stayed on the charger.”
After a sleepless night, Cox headed for West—which is about 1 1/2 hours from Rockdale and north of Waco—on Thursday morning and began searching for his friends.
“There are houses people aren’t going to be able to get back in,” he said. “It’s unbelievable.”
He got into town, the Czech Stop was still selling kolaches, the Sonic was open. Some semblance of normalcy.
But then state troopers had stops at every thru street. There were 100 to 200 media vans gathered in town to cover the story that had supplanted the Boston Marathon bombings.
You could tell something was up.
“I couldn’t get close, but I saw some pictures,” Cox said, “it’s very well barricaded, you can’t get anywhere near the site. Windows are boarded up everywhere, businesses, houses.
“I mean, they lost two schools.
“There’s two words we have all been using, surreal and whirlwind. It’s been a whirlwind of emotions.”
His Tigers had a game Friday against Caldwell, but he returned to West Saturday morning.
Cox’s best friend in the world, Brian Petter and his wife Chelsea, lived just two miles from the blast—a concussion that could be felt 40 miles away in Waxahachie.
Their 4-year old son and younger daughter were outside playing when the inferno exploded.
Brian and Chelsea were inside their home and the blast knocked them to the floor. The children were fine.
“It was probably better for them that they were outside. They were low enough they didn’t get hit.”
They fled the house as fast as they could.
“For them it was just panic and disbelief.”
He sought the Petters out. “Basically I was baby sitting so they could go to the store.” Cox went to school with firefighter Joey Pustejovsky, who was also the city secretary.
A first responder, Pustejovsky was one of 14 people and 10 firefighters who died at the site.
Pustejovsky, 29, had four children and married his wife, Kelly, just last year.
“He was a really good guy,” Cox remembered. “Always had a smile on his face. He was a few years older than me so we didn’t really hang out with the same crowd, but all those guys that went in that night were stand up guys, heroes in our eyes.”
Friend or stranger, small town alliances are like no other.
“You’re tied to everyone in town in one way or another. You see this kind of thing on television, you never think it will happen to you.”
While in West, Cox helped unload truckloads of supplies for 13 straight hours.
“Seeing people that don’t even have any ties to West pitching in, it makes you proud to be a Texan. It’s overwhelming.”
Cox took $3,500 dollars and food, water and blankets with him, all donated by the people of Rockdale.
“I just started sending e-mails, to our administration, Chamber of Commerce, anyone I knew. Just tried to spread the word. The people here were great.”
RISD athletic department assistant Denise Betchan headed up the fundraising and collection effort.
The hat was passed at Tuesday’s baseball game with Madisonville, raising another $475.
The Tigers wore sweatbands with West’s black and red school colors on them.
Cox is planning on attending the memorial service for the dead Thursday at the Ferrell Center in Waco. President Obama will also attend.
Also, West and Robinson are playing baseball Friday, the first outside activity since the blast.
Cox will attend for two reasons: his Tigers could play Robinson in the playoffs, so it gives Cox a chance to support and scout at the same time.
Cox has no doubt that the people of West will survive and the town will rebuild.
“You like to think so. It’s been the same for 27 years of my life. They are as strong as anyone I’ve been around.
“The people of West will never change. It will be a long recovery, but I think they will come out stronger from it.
“This is something that we need to overcome.”