Steve Smith - Local historian

Steve Smith - Local historian


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    Six Years and One Day: Remembering my Goldstone Co-workers

    photos by Tim Gregor

    Three Crosses In Loving MemeoryJohnny MasonDennis ButcherRoger Lanier
    click image to view larg

    video by Tim Gregor

    by Charles Waybright

    Six years ago and one day, I was driving to my job at Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in my vanpool. As we were coming out of Jackhammer Pass on Fort Irwin Road, we noticed a number of vehicles a few miles ahead. Accidents are common on Fort Irwin Road, as can be easily seen from the number of crosses that line the shoulders. So we thought, “Oh, another accident.”

    As we got closer, we were surprised to see a number of our Goldstone commuter vans lining the road, and several our co-works in various locations. I slowed to a crawl as we got closer, and we noticed one of our vans barely recognizable, lying upside down a hundred feet or so off the side of the road.

    I was a firefighter in the Air Force. As firefighters, we are trained to remain calm when arriving to an accident scene and to assess the situation. We noticed three of our co-workers sitting evenly spaced about 10 feet off the shoulder of the road. This indicated there was a professional directing the rescue effort.

    From my experience in responding to rollover accidents, people survive with some injuries, so I believed everyone would be OK. There was one detail I missed, however: there were only three people sitting alongside the road, but six people were generally assigned to a van.

    We proceeded to work a bit shocked, but not knowing the extent of the tragedy that took place that day. When we arrived at the Goldstone gate, we learned that three of the employees did not survive. I was in disbelief. I thought the guard must be mistaken. “People survive rollovers,” I told myself. I went on the California Highway Patrol website, and the report read “3 fatalities, no new updates.”

    We continued our work that day, trying to grasp the magnitude of the situation. The notable silence spoke volumes about the grief, shock and disbelief we were dealing with. At the end of the day, we all gathered around the door. We normally jolt through like racehorses to get in our vans and go home, but that day we all just stood there and looked at the door. None of us wanted to be the first to leave. None of use wanted to face the reality of that day: December 8, 2005.

    Six years and one day ago, we lost three of our co-workers, three husbands and three fathers:  Johnny Mason, Dennis Butcher and Roger Lanier. Those who knew them know that they were three of the nicest people. Johnny Mason, a boss, I never saw him without his kind smile. Dennis Butcher, I always got the sense that he was a loving husband and father. And Roger Lanier, he enjoyed life and never lost his childlike curiosity.

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