Local News

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

Posted May 15, 2008 6:32 a.m. EDT
Updated May 15, 2008 12:33 p.m. EDT

— 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.