Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Artist William Denton Ray's close call

Posted By on Wed, Nov 14, 2012 at 2:25 PM

William Denton Ray
  • William Denton Ray
When an explosion shook the Richmond Hill subdivision in Greenwood just after 11 p.m. Saturday night, William Denton Ray was in his house about two blocks southwest from the explosion's epicenter. Ray, 38, an artist with a studio in the Harrison Center for the Arts, was relaxing in his bedroom.

"My wife had gone into my daughter's room because she had woken up so she was rocking her," says Ray. "And my son was back in his bedroom upstairs. We were all upstairs. I was watching TV and all the sudden this huge concussion - like a bomb - went off. It was so loud. I don't know how else to describe it.

"The curtains were blowing like the windows were open but they were closed. I could have sworn that the walls flexed too. Everything ran through my head, like a car or truck had crashed. I jumped out of bed, I ran to my daughter's room. I asked if they [his wife and daughter] were okay. They were fine."

After he had accounted for his wife Helene and their son Jazper, 6, and their daughter Tayven, 2, he looked out the window to see a scene of complete pandemonium. "People were coming out of their houses," he says. "They were everywhere."

A number of rumors started circulating almost immediately. Someone within Ray's hearing range said something about a plane crash. Another rumor, which turned out to be true, was that the neighborhood would be evacuated. (The cause for the explosion is still unknown but, according to Public Safety Director Troy Riggs, natural gas is a suspected culprit).

"We went outside to see and we saw the smoke and the flames and the fire just getting bigger and bigger and bigger," says Ray. "We could see it from our front yard. It was getting scary. It was getting bigger and bigger and we knew that we had to get out of there. We started grabbing things that we needed.

"I packed the kids in the car. We drove down the driveway and stayed there for a little bit because it was hard to get out. And we kept thinking of things that we needed. I ran back to the house really quickly to get the pets. And eventually we left. We knew that they were going to shut off the power."

Ray and his family returned to the house late Sunday. Over the interim he made contact with friends and neighbors on Facebook.

"We got power back on yesterday [Sunday] evening and I had the gas company come by and make sure everything was fine today," he said. "I just wanted to make sure because of the safety issue."
Five homes were destroyed by the explosion, and eighty homes were damaged.


"We have a couple of nail pops," says Ray. "The biggest thing that I noticed was that our sliding glass door had popped out of its frame about six inches. I didn't notice it at first. The siding busted out a little bit too. The side of our house that's facing north, the top of our bedroom window looked like it was bent in a little bit."

Richmond Hill residents Jennifer Longworth and her husband John "Dion" Longworth, 34 and 36 respectively, were killed as a result of the explosion. A candlelight vigil was held for them at Southwest Elementary, where Jennifer Longworth worked as a second grade teacher, on Sunday night.

It will probably take a while for some semblance of normal to return to the Richmond Hill subdivision, according to Ray.

"It's still blocked off," says Ray. "They've color coded certain houses. Certain houses are uninhabitable. They've scheduled certain times for people to come in and get their belongings and get out. Every person has an hour to grab their things. There's a huge police presence. There's mobile police campers and the media's everywhere. There's porta potties. It's a spectacle."

"I feel like everything is susceptible to blowing up," says Ray, in whose colorful futuristic paintings whimsy - more often than not - trumps foreboding. "Just because witnessing that kind of concussion, that kind of explosion, it puts you on edge because you never know. It just kind of replays in my head."

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