One year later, faces of West tragedy struggle to move forward

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by TODD UNGER

Bio | Email | Follow: @toddWFAA8

WFAA

Posted on April 16, 2014 at 12:56 PM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 16 at 11:20 PM

WEST — When 15 people were killed by a massive fertilizer plant explosion in the small Central Texas town of West last April, there were many stories of heroism and bravery.

Less was written about the families, friends and colleagues that experienced a tremendous loss.

That night turned Kelly Pustejovsky into a widow who has struggled every night to understand why.

"My thing is, why? Why did this happen in this town? Why did we have to lose 12 great guys?" she asked News 8 in a recent interview.

Her 29-year-old husband Joey, was the town secretary and one of the 12 first responders who lost their lives.

As a volunteer firefighter in West, he and four others from the West Volunteer Fire Department were first on the scene when a fire started around 7 p.m. on April 17, 2013. 

Kelly Pustejovsky's memory of that night — and the days to follow — is now a blur.

"I was still hanging on to a little bit of hope that he would show up. And he didn't," she said.

It took her nearly six months to start sleeping in the couple's bed again. She said she never plans to move away from West, perhaps not even away from the home they shared as a couple.

"So many memories. "That flag painted out back on the shed, Joey painted it the day he died," she said.

Memories are something Dr. George Smith has, too.

The head of West EMS went right to the nursing home when he saw thick smoke billowing from the plant.

He helped organize a rescue for more than 120 senior citizens. He was also a constant presence in the hours and days to come — at one point conducting media interviews while covered in blood.

"There is no one moment; it was all just catastrophic from the millisecond that explosion happened," he said.

But for as much as people like Smith are struggling with the anniversary, they are finding reasons to look forward and be optimistic.

"We've got a new EMS facility, a new ambulance," he said. "We will come back."

Kelly Pustejovsky is also trying to move forward, however slowly. She runs the fire department's auxiliary, helping set up T-shirt drives and fundraisers, and she's kept working in Waco.

She also keeps her living room filled with photos of Joey, and some of his most prized possessions — like the firefighter helmet he was wearing the night he died.

"I miss him, and I wish he was still here," she said, fighting back tears.

E-mail tunger@wfaa.com

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