Survivors of '99 Bonfire recount collapse, severe injuries

Published: Nov. 19, 2019 at 12:20 AM CST
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November 18, 1999, Bonfire collapsed. 12 aggies were killed and 27 others were injured. We sat down with two survivors to hear their accounts of the collapse and how it changed their lives.

Dominic Braus was introduced to Bonfire as a college freshman in 1999. Braus was enrolled in the Corps of Cadets in Company L-1. He said being part of L-1 meant being involved in Bonfire, because of the outfit's strong Bonfire presence and tradition.

Also part of the 1999 Bonfire was Bill Davis. He was a crew chief in Aston Hall. Along with four other chiefs, he served as a leader in his dorm.

Davis headed out to the midnight shift out at the stack for November 18, 1999. He describes it as "a cold cool night."

Braus was also there. After arriving, he scurried up the stack as quickly as he could to secure a spot on a swing position.

Davis made his way up to the second stack at the same time, greeting some of his friends on the way up.

As Braus was on the swing, he said he heard a loud crack, then felt a swaying motion that he knew was different from how the rope should feel. Davis said at that moment, he looked down for members of his dorm and noticed the ground moving. Both men realized the stack was falling and tried to push off.

Davis said he knew stack was falling towards him.

On the way down, Braus repeated a quiet prayer, "Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place my trust in thee," several times. Then, he says everything went black.

After Bonfire collapsed, Davis was trapped on the ground face first.

"The best way I can describe it, my hand was across my chest and my left arm was sticking out like I'm a little teapot handle and there was a log across my elbow that was keeping me pinned in there," said Davis.

Braus said he was laying at an angle with his feet up on the logs. He said that was the first thing he remembers after it fell.

Davis said he was close enough to the outside that people could catch a glimpse of him through the logs, but deep enough that they couldn't do anything to get him out.

First responders found the pair quickly, but it took hours before they were extracted from the logs and checked into the hospital.

Braus says his main injury was to his right arm and shoulder, with a laceration that went from the back of his shoulder all the way under his armpit. He also had bruised lungs and dislocated his feet.

Davis broke both of his cheekbones, cracked his upper jaw, punctured and collapsed his right lung, lacerated his liver, shattered his elbow, shattered his femur, cracked his pelvis, cracked his wrist and had other soft tissue damage.

"I was really banged up. It's crazy to think to go through all those injuries. You know, I still walk, I survived an accident where 12 people didn't," said Davis.

"In fact, that's something that I struggled with for many years after this, is why I was lucky enough not to have been taken that night and people right beside me were," Braus said.

"I'm very blessed, not only to be able to walk and breathe, but to live the life I do," said Davis.

Braus now lives in Waco with his wife and two kids, and Davis lives in Katy with his wife and two kids. Both are healthy today.

"It doesn't seem to me like a moment that happened 20 years ago. it's just something that happened that changed my life and the life of so many others, and the life of really the Aggie nation as a whole," said Braus.

"I hope I've lived a life to honor the 12. I hope I live a life that God can use me to whatever path he has for me, but it's certainly not lost on me that all of it is a blessing and that I'm lucky to be alive to this day," said Davis.