Weather Updates

Schaumburg official injured in Oklahoma tornado shares harrowing experience

Updated: June 24, 2013 1:53PM

At first, it was just a curious thing to watch — a darkening sky, a restless wind and rain that hardened into ping-pong-sized hail.

And then for Schaumburg Village Trustee Frank Kozak and his wife, Char — visiting her relatives in the Oklahoma City area — a decision had to be made.

“Do you want to go into the storm shelter?” Kozak, 68, remembers asking his wife. No, she said. It was “too musty,” too dirty down there, she said.

So the couple went inside her brother’s house, unaware of the churning killer bearing down on them — a mile-wide tornado that would leave 24 dead, nearly half children.

Still in Oklahoma City, where his wife is hospitalized with lacerations and a shattered hand, Frank Kozak said Wednesday that he feels blessed to be alive.

“It’s like I got beat up with a two-by-four,” he said. “We’re alive; that’s what counts.”

Before Monday, Kozak had never been face to face with a twister. But he knew this much: Other than a shelter, the safest place is the center of the house. So the Kozaks hurried to a closet inside the brick bungalow. As soon as they stepped inside the closet, Kozak’s ears rang with the sound of shattering glass.

“I got in the closet with her,” Kozak recalled. “I put my arms around her. I said, get on the floor. And then I closed the door. Then the next thing I knew, the roof blew off the house.”

Something slammed into Kozak’s back — a water heater, he would later learn. The twister collapsed the bungalow’s walls, bringing an avalanche of bricks down on top of the couple. He remembers seeing patches of sky and hearing the freight-train roar.

And Kozak remembers time slowing down.

“It was like an eternity,” he said.

When the twister finally passed, Kozak started clawing at the debris and talking to his wife all the while. He wobbled to his feet, using a two-by-four for support.

“All the neighbors’ houses were gone,” Kozak said. “As far as I could see, it was all debris. My car is a couple of blocks away (up) in a tree.”

Kozak said he yelled for help. Emergency workers reached him and dug his wife out of the rubble. Kozak says the weight of the water heater and bricks probably saved he and his wife’s lives.

He said he’s grateful that the rest of his wife’s family — including his 93-year-old mother-in-law , who lives in a nearby nursing home — are fine.

And Kozak wasn’t too sore to joke. The locals often kid Kozak that he doesn’t know how to ride a horse.

“I tell them I can’t ride a horse, but I can ride out a tornado,” Kozak said.

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.