Columbia man tries to pick up life after storm

Monday, June 16, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:08 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, June 17, 2014

COLUMBIA — “That stackable washer and dryer is what saved my ass and kept the roof from completely falling on me,” Cheston Fox said while rummaging through the remains of his trailer.

Cheston Fox peers into the inside of his trailer through a hole in the wall Wednesday.

A tree fell on the roof of Fox's mobile home during a severe storm June 4. The storm started at about 4 a.m. and peaked at about 4:30 a.m, with most of the damage occurring south of Interstate 70, according to previous Missourian reporting. Winds in Columbia reached 56 mph, according to the National Weather Service. The storms caused several trees to fall over roadways and roofs to blow off barns throughout Boone County. The roof of Prairie Home R-V School was also torn off, and a residential fire sparked by lightning caused $1 million in damage.

On that night, Fox had troubles of his own. He was more worried about protecting the lives of his fiancée, Helen McKinzie, and his stepdaughter than his own.

Cheston Fox looks on while cleaning up debris from the storm.

“A tree was comin’ down, and just before it came down I pushed my 8 month pregnant (fiancée) out of the way,” Fox said, explaining what had occurred on the night the storm hit Ed's Mobile Home Park. 

Everyone got out of the way except for Fox. He found himself pinned beneath a massive white oak tree, more than 3 feet in diameter. He thinks being next to the stacked washer and dryer unit helped save him. Firefighters worked for about two hours before they pulled him through a 2-square-foot hole they had to cut into the trailer.

“There were moments where I felt lightheaded, but I wasn’t going to let the situation take me. I felt like I could taste blood in my lungs because I was running out of oxygen," Fox said. “(Helen) only got two scratches on her belly; I got scratched by a bunch of nails from the ceiling.”

Darlene Davidson, Fox's next-door neighbor, was able to respond to her neighbor's situation.

Davidson lives with her child and mother in the mobile home park.

“That was the worst it’s ever gotten since we lived here,” said Davidson. “The lady who lived behind me said Fox was yelling and screaming, and didn’t know where his wife and kids were.”

Luckily, Fox’s family had evacuated. 

“We had to evacuate our house, too," Davidson said. "If the tree would have fallen 20 degrees in our direction we would have been crushed."

Unfortunately, the location of Fox’s former home and trailer park is not ideal for emergency situations. When storms hit, the residents hunker down and hope for the best.

“We take cover in a ditch by the highway, the deepest ditch we can find,” Fox said. “The school is too far away, and I ain't goin' that far with a pregnant woman during a tornado."

The safety precautions recommended for mobile home park residents by the Columbia Fire Department leave a lot of room for interpretation, and generally leave the decisions up to the residents.

"It's up to the homeowners to seek proper shelter during severe weather and tornadoes," fire department Battalion Chief Brad Frazier said. "Residents should find hardened shelters to go to."

The debris inside Fox's home left by a severe early June storm.

This isn't Fox's first brush with death, though. Back in his high school days, Fox was a stud on his football team before he was injured in a car accident.

"I was ejected head first out of a car; that pretty much ended my football career," Fox said.

Fox's skull was fractured during the incident, and he later had surgery to correct the fracture, involving a metal plate insertion.

"Before I got injured, I had like 20 college recruits looking at me," Fox said. "I was on defense, special teams, and played second string running back. I've set records in Marshall that hold up today, and those records are holding up just fine."

Fox said he's put the difficult times behind him, and is just trying to pick up the pieces left behind from the storm.

Some signed photos still remain on Cheston Fox's wall after the storm. Fox, a Kansas City Chiefs fan, has an autographed photo of former Chiefs player Jordan Black (lower left), and MU analysts John Kadlec, Mike Kelly, and Gary Link (upper right).

"You gotta do what you gotta do," Fox said. "My neighbor helped out quite a bit with cleaning up, he also helped turn my water back on. I'm trying to scrap out all the metal and all the wood, everything else gets thrown in the dumpster."

Fox has found a new temporary trailer down the road at the Sunset Mobile Home Park with the help of his landlord.

"My landlord is helping me out with the rent, and the trailer we're living in now is longer, and two bedrooms instead of one," Fox said.  "We're all good now, and just glad we have a roof over our head."

Cheston Fox picks up debris near his trailer Wednesday. The storm caused the roof of Fox's home to collapse.

Fox said he is optimistic about his future, and said he has been able to stay positive through all the adversity. 

"I'm looking forward to getting married and starting a family," Fox said. He and his fiancee are expecting a girl later this year.

Supervising editor is Brian Kratzer.

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