Pool tables save six lives in wall collapse

By: Tim Johnston Email
By: Tim Johnston Email

All over West Liberty there are reminders of the destructive and deadly EF-4 tornado, and there are also signs of new beginnings. Although in some places, there are very little markers that anything was there at all.

One empty slab on Main Street, barely shows any details of the former pool hall where the town's most famous fish sandwich was served up by one of the most beloved men.

"Don is loved. He's a lot of what's good about Morgan County," said Brian Turner, Head Football Coach for Morgan County, who works with Donnie McKenzie in the fall.

"The fish sandwich? Of course, I've had it! It was good," exclaimed Ross Healy who met McKenzie inside the well known pool hall.

Donnie McKenzie ran the pool hall for many decades and has worked with the Morgan County football team for just as long. On March 2nd, the walls to his place collapsed with McKenzie and five others inside.

"I saw that building, we really didn't expect anybody that was in that building to be alive," recalled Healy.

"What was left of his [McKenzie's] business, you could not see pool tables," described Turner.

In the wake of the storm, word spread rapidly that McKenzie died. Some say he was killed in the collapse, that rumor was shot down and replaced with a second notice that he died from a heart attack the Saturday after the storm.

"It's just good to be alive," smiled McKenzie, he chuckled, "One of my best friends in the world, he kidded me and said he changed clothes four times just to go to my funeral."

Turner said he heard the rumors and had to sit down after word of McKenzie's death spread. Not long after he got a call from McKenzie and Coach Turner said it was just good to hear his voice.

Not even rumors could take down this West Liberty legend.

However, McKenzie was spared when a friend pulled him under a pool table as the storm approached the downtown area. Moments later the walls collapsed.

"It all went down at once, just right flat down," said McKenzie, adding, "John [Brown] grabbed me by the arm and said 'Donnie, you've got to get down! You've got to get down under here [the pool table]!"

"I was laying down and he was right down over top of me [shielding McKenzie with his body]. If he hadn't hollered and got me by the arm, that would've been all she wrote, I guess."

"I'm real thankful that we've still got Don and that all those rumors were just that, rumors," said Turner.

All six people took cover under tables and everyone was able to walk away with just bumps and bruises, and one impressive tale of survival.

As for McKenzie he hopes to find a place soon and begin serving up his famous fish sandwiches and host his town-full of friends for more fun.

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