Sunday, February 2, 2003

School superintendent's hometown in debris path

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

When he saw the name of his hometown flash across his television screen Saturday morning, Alton Frailey immediately called his sister in Nacogdoches, Texas,

Frailey, who is sick with a cold, was watching an old Western when he heard the news that the space shuttle Columbia broke apart over Texas that morning, killing all seven astronauts on board.

Metal debris and broken machinery from the space shuttle rained down across East Texas, with some pieces as long as 3 feet falling in Nacogdoches, just south of where Frailey, superintendent of Cincinnati Public Schools, was born.

"As soon as I heard it was sighted over Shreveport, which is about 90 minutes from where I grew up, I thought, `There's a possibility,'" he said. "And then all of a sudden, Nacogdoches popped up on the screen.

"I didn't really get worried because you kind of have this instinct with your siblings, and I didn't have that feeling," he said. "But I knew with it being on the news there would be a lot of activity and I wanted to see if my sister had heard anything."

Two of his sisters and a brother live in Nacogdoches County, and a third sister, Bessie Weaver, lives in the city of Nacogdoches, about three hours northeast of Houston. She lives five minutes from downtown, where several pieces of debris were found. Frailey attended college in Nacogdoches at Stephen F. Austin State University.

Weaver, who lives in a two-story apartment building, said her building rumbled and rocked at around 8 a.m. Central time for about a minute and a half, presumably as pieces of the breaking shuttle flew overhead and then crashed down.

"I heard this rumbling noise like there was a roller on top of the building," Weaver said. "It was just that loud. I thought, `Why are they working on the building this early in the morning.' "

She wasn't immediately aware of the explosion until a neighbor called with the news.

Some residents in the city reported that the explosion rattled windows and blew open doors, and local media reported that some residents' homes were damaged when debris flew through their roofs.

On Saturday morning, Ms. Weaver drove down the same street, University Drive, where a dentist said a chunk of debris crashed through his office. Another piece was found in the parking lot of the Commercial Bank of Texas, a few blocks from where Frailey and Weaver's aunt lives downtown.

After calling family members to make sure everyone was OK, the gravity of the tragedy began to settle in for both Frailey and Weaver. Both were rocked by the Challenger explosion in 1986.

"My heart immediately went out to the families who were waiting with great anticipation for a successful mission," Frailey said.

The Associated Press contributed. E-mail

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