By Eric Walters
Williamston Post staff writer
In October 2011, Williamston High School freshman Gabe Corbett died after a locker room wall he was climbing on collapsed, falling on top of him.
“We remember him every day and he’ll never be forgotten. But, people have begun to realize that we need to move on, we can’t be crying every day, we have to focus on other things,” said Williamston High School principal Dr. Jeffrey Thoenes.
Thoenes said the aftermath of Corbett’s death went better than expected, a fact that he credits to his students.
“Our kids are remarkable. After Gabe’s death they put together a celebration of his life that we held on our football field, that went extremely well,” Thoenes said. “They’ve been there for each other, supported each other the whole way.”
To help students cope with Corbett’s death, the school offered counseling for all students and even paid for a few to have out-of-school counseling. After dealing with the initial shock of the accident, the next step was to determine how the accident happened, and what to do with the locker room area.
Immediately after the accident, the high school closed the locker room, allowing only school officials and other essential personnel to enter. Thoenes said this was done because the school wanted to come to a clear understanding as to how the accident happened. Once that was determined, the school began to think of construction options to make the locker rooms safer.
The school decided that the brick walls, which were attached to the end of the lockers (see pic) would be replaced with tile. Thoenes said he didn’t understand why the brick walls existed in the first place as they served no functional purpose.
The second decision was to close off the area where Corbett’s death occurred. The school put up a temporary wall, blocking any access,that will stay up at least until Corbett’s class graduates in 2015.The accident caused headlines beyond Williamston. Police Chief Bob Young said that newspapers across the country, including the Boston Globe, called him regarding the accident. Corbett’s death also spurred politicians into action.
Mark Meadows, a state representative from East Lansing, proposed a bill that would require schools to hold building inspections every five years. Thoenes said that the idea is great, as it would make schools safer, but there is an issue of cost. The proposed bill puts the cost entirely on schools. Thoenes said he’d hoped that inspection costs would be covered at least partially by the state.
Since the accident, the Corbett family has filed a claim against the Williamston School District. Steve Cook, Williamston Community School’s Chief Financial Officer, was unable to comment as it is an ongoing legal process.