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'I feared the worst': Family recalls harrowing escape from tornado

Angie Gwathney scrambled to find her loved ones as the tornado barreled down on her home near Creekwood subdivision.

But within seconds of reacting to the imminent threat, she was blown out of her home about 50 feet onto her front yard and knocked unconscious.

The next thing she remembered, she was waking up beneath a pile of rumble and asking God, “What just happened? What is happening?”

She knew a tornado had struck, but the shock of being thrown from her home was still fresh.

After hearing yells in the darkness from her loved ones, Gwathney realized she did not hear the voice of her mother, Patricia Hunt.

“Once I saw my kids and everyone was OK, then I started yelling, ‘Momma’s dead!’ She only weighs 86 pounds so I feared the worst.”

But Hunt was still alive. She had been thrown about 60 feet from the residence and landed beneath a vehicle.

She was severely injured and rushed to a nearby hospital by a stranger. Hunt’s body was covered with lacerations, but her major injury was a broken vertebrae in her lower back.

Hunt was released from the hospital last week.

Out of the eight individuals in the home Dec. 11, all survived despite the first and second stories of the home being completely blown away.

The six others made it to the home’s basement, where they made it through the tornado uninjured.

“We were protected by a higher-power God,” Valeska Gwathney said. “My grandmother (Hunt) should’ve broken all her bones, but she only broke one vertebrae. We lost literally everything, but the fact we still have each other is amazing.”

Valeska Gwathney took shelter in the basement along with Jada and Whitney Gwathney, her 2-year-old niece Aveum Trstenjak, Angie Gwathney’s boyfriend DeShawn Mary and Jada Gwathney’s childhood friend Brooklyn Hampton.

Even the family dog managed to survive the ordeal.

Valeska Gwathney, who is six months’ pregnant, said the family lost “everything” and all the vehicles at the house were totaled.

“At this point, we are just trying to figure everything out,” she said last week. “We are taking it day by day. We are so grateful to still be here. ... It was a traumatic experience for our whole family, but it’s going to make us realize how grateful we are to have each other.”

Despite watching weather reports during the night and everyone being alerted by warning sirens, there wasn’t enough time for the entire group to take shelter in the basement.

“There was no time to think,” Valeska Gwathney said. “I just ran downstairs as fast as I could. I put my arms over my family. I felt wind over my head and I looked up, and my house was gone. It all happened within 30 seconds.”

Since the storm, the family has been staying in a hotel room and using a rental car.

But without the majority of their belongings, they are asking for help.

Valeska Gwathney created a GoFundMe account called “Help My Family Tornado Relief” at www.gofund tornado-relief.

“We were in a tough situation before the storm,” she said. “We lost all of our cars and not all of the cars had (insurance). I am so grateful for the people who have donated. I’m so grateful to even have the option.”

Gwathney family members said they were looking forward to spending Christmas together despite the circumstances.

Valeska Gwathney said despite Christmas not being as joyful as it usually is, she is reminded of the lives lost Dec. 11. “That could’ve been my family,” she said. “How can I complain about losing everything when we survived?”

After 3-year shutdown, Old Richardsville Road bridge opens

A leisurely trip of 420 feet, which took him more than a minute Thursday in his 1999 Dodge Grand Caravan, had to be among the most meaningful drives Hayward Minton has taken in his 99 years.

Minton, with his son Robert Minton riding shotgun, made the short trip as more than 30 friends, family and Warren County officials gathered to witness the ceremonial reopening of a bridge that, like Minton himself, is a fixture along Old Richardsville Road.

Built in the late 19th century, the single-lane Old Richardsville Road bridge had been closed to traffic since the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet found “structural deficiencies” in March 2018.

Repairs to the bridge, complicated by its historic nature and delayed while state funding was procured, are finally completed, giving Minton the opportunity to be the first to try it out.

“I usually come across a little faster,” Minton quipped after meandering across the bridge that had been repaired by Lexington’s Intech Contracting and pronounced safe by KYTC inspectors. “I’ll go a little faster when I cross it again going home.”

Like his neighbors, Minton was glad to see the reopening of a bridge that he has been crossing for more than 70 years. The alternate route that comes out just past a bridge spanning Ky. 185 is problematic, he claimed.

“You take your life into your hands when you turn left off that road,” Minton said.

Others, like Warren County Fifth District Magistrate Mark Young, echoed Minton’s concerns about safety while also pointing out that the bridge that is on the National Register of Historic Places has significance beyond its use as a convenient artery for those living in the area.

“There are a lot of memories associated with this old bridge,” Young said. “Everybody in this part of the county has been wanting to get it open again.”

The bridge does indeed evoke plenty of memories and has spawned its share of legends – some involving ghosts and paranormal pranks – that have brought curiosity-seekers to the structure spanning the Barren River.

Refurbished in the 1980s at the expense of Camping World founder David Garvin, whose Ironwood Farm was on Old Richardsville Road, the bridge held up until a routine inspection led to its closure more than three years ago.

Getting the county-maintained bridge reopened proved to be more complicated than your average bridge repair.

“The Transportation Cabinet gave us advice on how to get it repaired while maintaining the historic integrity of the bridge,” Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon said. “There were other alternatives to get it back open, but they would’ve totally destroyed the historic character of the bridge.”

With the help of Glasgow’s American Engineers Inc. and Intech Contracting, the structure was buttressed without losing that character.

“It took longer than expected, but I’m glad it was done right,” Warren County Public Works Director Josh Moore said.

Moore pointed out one significant change: eight-foot-tall steel barriers at both entrances designed to ensure that large trucks don’t attempt to cross the bridge that has a 3-ton weight limit.

“The barriers should discourage large trucks from trying to cross the bridge,” Moore said. “I would hope that folks drive slowly across the bridge to help extend its life.”

A long life for the bridge is a goal shared by Old Richardsville Road residents like Patrick Reynolds, who was at Thursday’s ceremonial reopening.

“I grew up on Garvin Lane and as a kid rode my bicycle across that bridge,” Reynolds said. “It looks very similar to what it did back then. I hope the barriers will help keep the right kind of traffic crossing the bridge.”

Buchanon said steps will also be taken to prevent the type of vandalism that forced the county road department to twice clean up graffiti that was spray-painted on the bridge.

“We’re going to get some lighting on it, and we’re working on getting security cameras,” he said.

Even with those additions, Moore believes the county will stay within the budget for repairing the bridge.

The county received a $312,000 grant from KYTC, and Intech did the repair work under a $293,523 contract.

Dear Santa: Letters offer a glimpse of the past

Editor’s note: From depressions to wars and devastating tornadoes, southcentral Kentucky has not been immune to tragedy and strife. But through it all, children have found comfort and joy in the simple task of sending letters to the jolly chief elf of the North Pole, Santa Claus.

Over Christmas week, the Daily News published letters to Santa from local children pulled from our archives, along with some vintage Christmas advertisements from our pages. The letters are listed in order based on the year they appeared.


Dear Santa Claus: Here comes a little brown eyed boy. I am eight years old. I will be so glad when you come, for you are always good to all little boys and girls. I would like to have a car, one that I can ride in like J.C. Penny has a little gun a sack of dinks a reading book a pair of gloves, some candy, fruit and nuts. Thank you for them, Glenn Kittrell, Smiths Grove, Ky.


Dear Santa: I will rite again this Christmas as you was so good to come last year. I am the little girl that can’t talk nor hear. My name is Francis Stanley. I am 10 years old, and I want a sleeping doll and a blackboard. I go to school at Mt. Victory. My teacher’s name is Miss Mary Godtem. I want some candy, apples and nuts. I have been good to my little sister. She is two years old Dec. 22. And you please bring her a doll that will cry. I hope you will have a good nite to come. I will have you a piece of cake and a cup of hot coffee, and you can leave papa and mama some apples. From a little girl and my sister. Frances and Iva Stanley P.S. Please bring me some fireworks and a table.


Dear Santa: I am a little boy four years old. I am trying to be a good boy and would like for you to bring me a circus, blackboard. I don’t like candy very much, but I would like to have some fruit and nuts. Please remember the little boys and girls whose fathers are away. So long Santa. Bobby Welch, Route 3.

Dear Santa Claus: I am a little girl nine years old. I do wish this old war was over so my brothers could come home. But I guess I’ll have to make the best of it. So anything you bring me will be greatly appreciated. Thank you, Eva Gean Tabor


Dear Santa: I am a little boy four years old. My name is Tommy Reader. I have a baby sister and her name is Janey Lou. We would like for you to come and see us this Christmas and bring me a truck and wheelbarrow. My sister is just two years old and she wants a doll and table and chairs, and dishes. We both like nuts and candy. We would also like to have our Daddy home for Christmas. Tom and Janey Reader

Dear Santa: I am a little boy six years old. This is my second year in school. I have been a very good boy this year. I shuck corn and feed the pigs for Daddy and wash dishes and bring in wood for Mother. I won’t ask for much but I would like to have a big fire truck and a train and some crayons and a color book, and also some fruit and candy. Bring Mother and Daddy something too. Larry Corder P.S. – Don’t forget the little boys and girls whose daddies are in the service.

Dear Santa: You never have forgotten me and I hop you won’t this year for I’d like to have a walking-duck, a sack of marbles, a money-bank and please try to find me a small flashlight. And if you have any fruit and candy left in your sack by the time you get to my house, I hope you will leave me a little for I have been a good little boy. I am five years old. I will leave our door unlocked for you. Loy Melvin Lee, Alvaton, Route 1

Dear Santa: I am a little girl four years old expecting you to come see me Christmas Eve night. My daddy is in the service, stationed somewhere in Japan. I want you to bring me a big doll, doll buggy, some paper dolls, candy, oranges, peanuts and anything else you want to bring me. Don’t forget my little cousin, Joe Lane Willis, also four years old, and my brother, McHugh. I’ll be good, so I’ll be looking for you. Wanda Lou Ellis

Dear Santa: My name is Willa Dean Taylor and I am eight years old. I wrote you a letter last Christmas and I got everything I asked for. This time I want a ring, writing desk, doctor and nurse’s kit, storybook, checkers, play money, candy and fruits. Please don’t forget my cousins. We are all living together until our daddies get home. Willa Dean Taylor

Dear Santa: I am a girl age 10. I want you to bring me a sweater and skirt. I have a little sisters. Her name is Patricia Sandra and she wants a big doll. And please, Santa, don’t forget my sweet little brother. His name is Richard Neal and he will be 2 next month. You can fill our stockings with fruit and candy. And, Santa, please don’t forget my Uncles Hollis Meredith. He is with the Army Air Force in Japan. Wish you could bring him home for Christmas. Carol Fay Jackson


Dear Santa, I love you Santa and I have been good. Please bring me a pink bicycle with no training wheels, some babies, a play sewing machine, legos and a stroller. Please put earrings in my stocking like you did last year. I will leave you some chocolate chip cookies taped to the garage door. Love you, Lindsay, Age 4.