Town Reflects On Tragedy

1 decade 11 months 2 weeks ago Thursday, July 05 2007 Jul 5, 2007 Thursday, July 05, 2007 6:59:14 PM CDT July 05, 2007 in News
There's an old saying that Americans always pull together during times of tragedy. One year ago, a tragedy in this small town showcased what the human spirit is all about.

Residents of Clinton said that there was no warning whatsoever, and only the hand of God could explain their luck.

One year ago, Clinton Mayor Gus Wetzel was just hoping to find 10 healthy people.

"I was probably more mayor that night," Wetzel said.

Wetzel is also a surgeon, and he's very proud of his hometown.

"I took the first interview and it was negative about everything that could go wrong. I was determined we were not going to tell that story," Wetzel said. "We had a great story to tell about our community that weeps together, plays together, and we work together."

Kevin Young was among the trapped.

"The chair fell out from under me, and I'm going down and stuff is falling on me," he said.

Don Eaton, another trapped Elks member, remembered how it was that night.

"The floor fell out from under them. The building went down, I tried to leave," Eaton said. 

"The floor went out from underneath me and I fell from the second floor to the bottom floor. I could talk to the other eight people... I could see four others. We were leary because everytime you moved more bricks would fall or something there was piled above us. The big screen TV fell against my leg and kept that wall from crushing me," Eaton said.

Eaton says he can sort of laugh about it now, with one exception - the Elks Club lost its leader.

"We hated that we lost Tony," he said.

Tony Komer had gone to the third floor to prepare for the evening's initiation ceremony.

"He served as an inspiration," Wetzel said. "He was doing something he loved and his life was cut all too short."

So Wetzel decided to host a mayor's prayer breakfast one year later. The Clinton Community Center was packed. Kansas City Fire Chief Smoky Dyer served as guest speaker.

"If you look at Clinton a year ago, things aren't really as bad as you think. If you want a great example of what's right with America, it was displayed here one year ago today," Dyer said.

Chief Dyer was in charge of the rescue that night.

Video from one year ago showed rubble piled here, but also concerned faces from Clinton residents gathered across the street from the fallen Lodge.

"And then for all the citizens who gathered at the square, where many times we have trouble with these crowds, but these people weren't there as gawkers," Dyer said. "They were there you could see it in their faces - they were passionate and worried about the entrapment of their fellow citizens," he said.

Don made it out about midnight. "We were afraid someone was going to take a truck and hook a chain to it and start pulling. That was the last thing that needed to happen," he said.

Kevin Young made it out at 12:32. He can't wait to see Clinton's new Elks Lodge - a new building to replicate the old.

The foundation is poured, a foundation not only for the building, but for the community.

"Life has never been the same since that tragedy," Wetzel said. "We lost an honored citizen, but we also but we also celebrated the rescue of those who were entrapped. There's a beautiful new foundation where the elks complex will stand in a 12 month period," he said.

Investigators said a bad foundation caused the collapse.

The building dated back to the 1880's. One of rescue groups on the scene -- the Missouri Task Force 1, is based out of Columbia.

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