Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

Columns

September 5, 2009

BELCHER: Front row seat to a tragedy

The re-surfacing of the Cameron Todd Willingham story over the last couple of weeks has stirred a variety of memories for me, spanning back over the last 22 years I’ve called Corsicana home.

The mind is a very funny thing. Sometimes, I can’t remember what I had for lunch. Then again, there are some things that your mind will never let go of.

Dec. 23, 1991 is one of those memories for me — one I’ll never forget.

To be clear, that day is not one I’ve thought about often in the years that have gone by. Through some 30 years of being involved in “reporting” through my radio days into my present post at the Daily Sun, I’ve seen a lot of things I won’t ever forget, but don’t “dwell” on from day to day.

But on that particular day, I had a “front row seat” to a tragedy — something that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

Radio was my profession at the time, and while not “the news guy” I was first to hear of the tragedy on the newsroom “scanner” — and with no one else available at the time, the one to respond to West Eleventh Avenue to “report the news.” Much like the Daily Sun newsroom of today, we all did “a little bit of everything” in the course of a day.

I parked a block or so down the street and saw the fire and police units in front of me, with a “supply line” snaking its way up the street to the fire engine in the middle of the street. I positioned myself near the rear of the engine, close enough to observe, but out of the way of those working the scene.

I remember seeing Todd Willingham standing in front of the house, wearing only a pair of pants, watching as firefighters poured water on the burning house. I remember seeing him around his vehicle, still parked near the house. Accounts of him being restrained by firefighters are accurate, from what I observed, and I remember him shouting something about “my babies.” He was eventually removed from the scene, carried away from the house by firefighters to the front of the truck I was standing by.

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