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Family 'torn to shreds' over Duke worker's death

Posted May 15, 2008

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— Family members remembered a Duke University employee killed Wednesday by an on-campus explosion as school officials decided whether to re-open the building where the accident happened.

Rayford “Wiley” Cofer, 63, died in the blast that happened just before 3 p.m. in the Levine Science Research Center, at the intersection of Erwin Road and Research Drive.

Cofer’s stepson, William Coble, said the community has rallied around his family. He remembered his stepfather as someone who was “always willing to help anyone in need.”

“(We are) torn to shreds, mentally and physically. It’s been a terrible afternoon,” Coble said.

Coble said his stepfather planned to retire in about a year so he could spend more time with his family and the church community he loved. He leaves behind his wife, three sons and four grandchildren.

Co-workers called Cofer a go-to guy in the Duke University Facilities Management Department. He had received two awards for his efforts since he began working at the school in 2001.

The accident was also tough for the people he worked with.

“When an accident occurs and someone passes away, I think we're all, in a sense, in a state of shock,” said Duke Spokesman John Burness.

Cofer was working on steam pipes in the basement of the Levine building Wednesday afternoon when one of them ruptured. In an instant, the small mechanical room became very hot, school officials said. Cofer died from his injuries.

The building uses steam from the university's power plant for heating and cooling.

“I can tell you that after the incident, the room was very hot. There's a release of water. The space in that portion of the building is very cramped,” Vice President for Campus Services Kemel Dawkins said.

After the accident, the basement filled with water and the building was closed. Crews spent much of the night cleaning the building.


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  • southernborn24 May 15, 2008

    I had the pleasure of knowing this very fine man - he was a Member of my Church and I can assure you that he was truly a child of God. This man is OK tonight!

  • xxxxxxxxxxxxx May 15, 2008

    What a sad thing to die so suddenly and tragically and so close to retirement. My prayers go out to the family.

  • Arkansas Razorback May 15, 2008

    Bless their hearts. I feel so bad for the family. I don't know what I would do if my husband left for work one morning and did not return that evening because of a tragic accident. I wish there was something I could do to help.

  • Southern Fried Yankee May 15, 2008

    "This is the reason why it is absolutely ridiculous to continue to use steam to heat buildings anymore. With today's technology in HVAC there is no need for steam anymore."

    Steam is a very efficient heating method for large buildings or complexes. Downtown Raleigh has a steam plant that heats and cools all the govt buildings. Major complexes use steam for a variety of reasons. Many churches and schools use steam or hot water for building heat. Hospitals, factories, commercial applications like dry cleaners, and of course, power generation all use steam. There's nothing wrong with the use. There's always something wrong with operator error or inadequate maintenance. And by the way, steam is not volatile...it can't burn or explode. It's the containment that fails.
    I know....I have 30 years in the business and am with design, QC, inspection, and safety. What are YOUR credentials?

  • Aquamarine May 15, 2008

    ghimmey47.................I agree with you!!!! The news staff doesn't even think, "What if this were me, how would I want to be treated"..........they just run for the story. It is reprehensible, an invasion of privacy, exploitive and disgusting. Go to the neighbors, friends, co-workers if you must know how someone is feeling, but stay away from the family members.

  • unchick May 15, 2008

    I am so sorry to hear about this. I will be praying for the family.

  • JayJay May 15, 2008

    Condolences to that family. Unexpected deaths are so difficult to accept.

    From what I have hear that building is not very old so the pipes should have been in pretty decent shape. He was there to fix something but we'll have to wait and see what. Steam systems are very dangerous to work on and sometimes the sections are not shut down when they should be before maintenance work is performed. It's like getting under a car on a jack. You might get away with a thousand times but it only takes once to kill you.

  • ghimmy47 May 15, 2008

    I would like to hear the opinions of everyone who reads this. Would you like news organizations to STOP running to the family in a tragedy, sticking a mic and camera at them and asking "How do you feel?" I feel it's a reprehensible practice and in poor taste. What do you EXPECT them to feel WRAL? What would YOU feel? Suffering of that kind is PRIVATE .. to be shared with loved ones ... not the general public.

    Let's hear it people. Think if it were you.

  • xchief661 May 15, 2008

    My heart is broken for this family. I know that it is hard for you as it is hard to understand why someone so loved by those who knew him and kind to all who knew him, was taken so terribly. Our prayers are with you all.

  • Groovy May 15, 2008

    What kind words here. I hope his family sees this and are comforted by knowing that others really do care.