HARTFORD, Conn. — UConn pitcher Justin Willis and his family were among those fortunate enough to escape the collapse of a Miami-area apartment tower last week that has left more than 100 people missing.
The West New York, New Jersey, man told news outlets that he and his sister were watching television in an apartment on the 11th floor of the Champlain Towers condominium complex in Surfside, Florida, when they heard the building shake sometime after 1 a.m. Thursday.
When they saw dust and debris rising up over the balcony, they went out into the hall and saw two holes where the elevators once were, and saw the next-door apartment was gone. Willis, sister Athena Aguero and parents Albert and Janette Aguero made it down 11 flights of stairs, and helped an elderly woman walking with a cane descend from the third floor.
When they reached the ground floor they saw the building’s garage had flooded and a wall near a pool had collapsed. Willis, 22, estimated he and his sister were about 15 feet away from where the edge of the building collapsed. He said he didn’t look back at the building until they had reached the beach safely because he was focusing on getting out. That’s when the weight of the moment set in.
“It just gives you a new sense,” Willis told The Hartford Courant. “I’ve always been a positive kid. I like to think I’ve had some unreal experiences in baseball and what my parents have sacrificed for me, but it definitely gives you a new meaning.”
Willis, a right-handed pitcher, was 4-0 this season for UConn and helped pitch the Huskies into the NCAA tournament with a win against Xavier to clinch the Big East title. He has a year of eligibility remaining.
Through Sunday morning, nine people were confirmed dead from the collapse and about 150 others remained missing as rescuers continued to dig through the rubble.