By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Heroic attempt affords Mac man to say goodbye

Marcus Larson/News-Register file photoCoy Roberts operates his self-made mowing contraption in August 2011. Roberts died Dec. 15 after he caught fire in a burn pit mishap.
Marcus Larson/News-Register file photo
Coy Roberts operates his self-made mowing contraption in August 2011. Roberts died Dec. 15 after he caught fire in a burn pit mishap.

But he did on Monday, Dec. 15, just as the neighbor was lighting his burn barrel filled with branches and other debris from a recent wind storm.

He was used to seeing Roberts, 82, working around his McMinnville property. A dairy farmer for decades, Roberts was officially retired, but he was always doing things such as mowing his extensive lawn, using the special multiple mower unit he’d invented himself.

Gonzalez was close enough to hear the “whoosh” as remnants of gasoline or diesel exploded in the barrel. He was close enough to see the neighbor, who usually waved hello or shared tomatoes from his abundant garden, suddenly become engulfed in flames.

The nursery worker clicked his radio and signaled “Roberts, burn.” He then jumped from his tractor and ran to help his friend.

He tried to smother the flames with his coat, but that didn’t work. So he sliced the rope holding a tarp, threw the damp canvas around Roberts, and pushed him down, rolling with him on the ground, receiving second-degree burns to his hands and arms in the process.

It was a heroic, selfless effort, said two of Roberts’ daughters-in-law, Roseanne Roberts and Taunja Roberts. They are married to two of Coy’s six children, Tom and Dan, respectively.

“Cande was there for a reason — to help us,” said the daughters-in-law.

While Gonzalez couldn’t save Coy Roberts’ life, he gave the family a tremendous gift, the women said. He made it possible for Coy to say goodbye to his wife, Jolene, and he allowed the family to know that everything possible was done to save the patriarch.

Gonzalez’s presence and quick thinking was nothing short of a miracle, the daughters-in-law said.

Coy Roberts died in the Legacy Emanuel Burn Unit Dec. 16, the day after the accident — and the same day on which his latest great-grandchild, Hailey Jolene Berkey, was born.

He had been flown to Portland aboard a Life Flight helicopter. Oregon Pride owner Mark Van Hoef offered the nursery property for a landing zone so the chopper could pick up Roberts, the women said. Bobby Landry and other nursery workers directed McMinnville medics and firefighters in to the scene.

Chris Ames from the nursery ran to alert Jolene Roberts after Coy, in pain but conscious, said “I want my wife, I want my wife.”

When Jolene, whom he affectionately called “Sally Q,” reached his side, he was able to reassure her. “”I’m okay. I’m okay,” said Coy, a deeply religious member of the Latter-Day Saints church.

“Dad had to have known he was pretty bad off,” Taunja Roberts said.

Roseanne Roberts, who had been home sick that day, left her home adjacent to her in-laws’ house just minutes before the fire. Her husband was due about 4 o’clock, but was delayed.

If Gonzalez hadn’t seen what happened, Roseanne said, her father-in-law might not have been found for hours. The family might have had to search for him in the darkness.

“If we’d found him ... that would have been horrible,” she said.

She and Taunja said they miss the leader of their family, a quiet, common-sense man, a hard-worker with a soft heart, who loved to host family get-togethers every Sunday night. The pain will be especially acute on Christmas and on Dec.29, which would have been Coy’s 83rd birthday.

But they are so grateful, they said, for the help he — and by extension, they — received.

“Everyone did all they could,” she said. “They saw a need and they answered it.”

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A great man who loved God and his family. His selfless service to others, and deep caring love for his wife, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will be sorely missed. God bless you Coy Roberts. We are all better people because you were a part of our lives, our church, and our community. God be with you 'til we meet again........

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