Originally created 09/17/97

Survivor thankful for life



Jerry and Sherri Corley stood in his parents' front yard Tuesday in Graniteville, their arms twined around one another.

"Watch the back," Mr. Corley said to his wife, grimacing in pain from the day-old gunshot wound in his right hip.

"I can't touch you anywhere," his wife lamented.

The Corleys celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary Tuesday, a day after he was shot in a deadly workplace rampage at R.E. Phelon Co. in Aiken.

"I'm glad he's alive. There's four other people that are not feeling anything," Mrs. Corley said.

About 3:15 p.m. Monday, Mr. Corley, who is tool and die lead man on Phelon's second shift, was leaning over a 5-foot by 12-foot granite work table examining a die. Mr. Corley said he heard a commotion in another part of the shop and a loud crackling sound, like fireworks exploding.

"I thought the guys were playing around," he said. Within moments, though, Mr. Corley felt an excruciating pain in his hip and dropped to the ground. He had been shot with a Russian semiautomatic weapon, similar to a 9 mm pistol.

"I could see underneath the legs of the table up to (the gunman) and he was expressionless," Mr. Corley said, describing the man's steady, beady eyes and tightly drawn mouth.

Mr. Corley lay on the shop floor for about five minutes before another Phelon worker dragged him outside and drove him to Aiken Regional Medical Centers, where he was treated and released.

Doctors told Mr. Corley he was lucky the bullet, still lodged in his body, didn't tear into his spine.

Mr. Corley said he was acquainted with accused gunman Arthur Hastings Wise, who previously worked at the plant, and would often wave or speak to the man at break time.

"I didn't know his name until last night." he said. Now, he'll never forget.

"All I got every time I close my eyes, I can see that picture," said Mr. Corley, who is still not certain if he will return to work at Phelon.

"It's going to be so hard to walk back in that shop knowing that's where I got shot, where a friend of mine got shot and two of my friends got killed," he said. "I'm going to always have that thought: if I ever go back to that place, will it ever happen again?"

While Mr. Corley recovered at home with his wife and two children, two co-workers remained hospitalized at Aiken Regional.

John Mucha, 60, a tool and die specialist at the plant, was listed in fair condition Tuesday night after being shot in the stomach. Security guard Lt. Stan Vance, 49, the first employee shot, was in serious condition Tuesday night at the Aiken hospital.

Mr. Mucha and his wife, Judy, moved to Aiken about two years ago from Beaufort, S.C., a neighbor said. Mr. Mucha came to Aiken searching for a job he could keep until he reached retirement age, said Betty Gayle, who lives beside the couple in Crosland Park.

The Muchas live in a rented white, ranch-style house on Wyman Street in Aiken. Tuesday afternoon, a wind chime made of forks and spoons played tinny music in the breeze. The well-tended yard was filled by a jungle of tall, tropical plants. And a shrimp boat, still rigged to a pickup truck, sat in the side yard.

The Muchas recently celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary, Mrs. Gayle said.

"They're just like this," she said, clasping two fingers tightly together. "You don't see one unless you see the other."

When Margaret Buckson heard that a man from Jackson was injured in Monday's rampage, she wondered if it was somebody she knew. She didn't realize until Tuesday afternoon that one of the injured workers was the neighbor she calls Mr. Stan.

Ms. Buckson said Lt. Vance and his wife, Donna, are good, friendly neighbors.

The couple moved into their white mobile home on Hidden Springs Drive about three years ago, their neighbor said. Lt. Vance often repairs cars in his yard and he once helped Ms. Buckson cut down some trees in her yard, she said. The couple also allowed Ms. Buckson's grandchildren to play in their above-ground swimming pool.

"He really is a nice man," Ms. Buckson said. "When they come along (the road), both of their hands go up."