Clopton area neighbors recall victim as good man

by Sherry Hamilton - Posted on Apr 20, 2011 - 04:19 PM

Photo: Travis Lee, center, his brother Brian Lee, and their grandmother, Dorothy Sawyer, survived Saturday’s tornado, but lost their neighbor, Periclis Koutsombinas, whose destroyed home can be seen in the background and below. Photos by Sherry Hamilton.

Travis Lee, center, his brother Brian Lee, and their grandmother, Dorothy Sawyer, survived Saturday’s tornado, but lost their neighbor, Periclis Koutsombinas, whose destroyed home can be seen in the background and below. Photos by Sherry Hamilton.

Photo:
The Lee brothers, Brian and Travis, and their grandmother, Dorothy Sawyer, were sitting at the kitchen table last Saturday evening as a heavy, driving rain storm pelted their small mobile home on Richneck Road in the Clopton area of Gloucester.

Suddenly, the rain stopped, darkness fell, and there was complete silence.

As the family looked out the kitchen window, a grey, swirling mass of grass and debris came out of the woods behind the house, filling the back yard—and a chunk of tree sailed airily by, a broken branch flapping. Then a loud roaring filled the air.

"We snatched Grandma and headed into the bathroom," said Brian. "We were in a panic. We didn’t know what was going on. I reached to close the back door and caught a glimpse of it, then it was gone. It lasted about three seconds."

"It was faster than we could process what was happening," said Travis. "It seemed like it dropped down and went back up. We had no idea it done the damage it did."

The brothers ran outside to see what had happened and were headed across the road to check on their nearest neighbors, Earl and Lynn Pruitt, when they noticed that the mobile home across the field on Hummingbird Lane was gone.

"We ran straight over there," said Brian. Earl Pruitt joined them.

As they approached what remained of the mobile home—bits of metal and fabric tangled sail-like around a tree, a metal beam thrust skyward, debris scattered about—they could hear calls for help from their neighbor, Ruth Ann Koutsombinas. They couldn’t see her, but could tell she was under a pile of rubble, and they were afraid to move anything for fear more might come tumbling down on her. Nearby lay her husband, Periclis, silent and still.

Brian could see lights from emergency vehicles in the distance on Hickory Fork Road, and began running toward them as he pulled out his cell phone to call 911. A tree that had fallen across the road blocked them. Eventually, rescue crews cut through the tree and took over.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Koutsombinas property told its own story. Cedar trees that once lined the narrow dirt lane lay on their sides, trunks broken and jagged edges exposed. A car, untouched, sat in the driveway where it had been parked the night before.

Neatly mowed grass, trimmed neatly around the sidewalk, lay under scattered debris, while two pruned crape myrtle trees and a newly-mulched flowerbed spoke of a home once lovingly cared for.

Travis said he didn’t know Koutsombinas personally, but had done odd jobs for him and knew him to be a good man.

"I can tell you he would do anything for you," Travis said. "He would give you the shirt off his back."

Another neighbor, Wanya Kimble, called Koutsombinas "Mr. Peri" and said he was a nice man.

Travis said the tornado was "the worst experience of our lives."

"We never had an experience like this," agreed Brian. "We’ve seen it on TV, but forget about TV."

"Reality hits," said Travis. "We came back out and looked down the road and everything was gone."