Several members of the Silo Junior High baseball team took the stand Wednesday at a preliminary hearing for their former coach, Roy West, who is accused of causing injuries to the boys by throwing baseballs at them during an April practice.
Bryan County Courthouse was overflowing with Silo School employees, baseball players and their parents - many of them under subpoena as witnesses in the case. Most had to stay outside of Special District Judge Trace Sherrill’s courtroom while the boys testified, but several people known to be involved in Silo Schools and its baseball program sat in the gallery for the day-long hearing.
The boys, all eighth-graders who testified to having minor injuries as a result of baseballs intentionally thrown at them by West, were the only people to take the stand Wednesday. The hearing will determine if the case against West will continue or be dismissed.
Due to the large number of witnesses, the hearing was set to continue on Jan. 7, 2014. Sherrill brought all the witnesses back into the courtroom to announce the continuation date and also “went out on a limb” in issuing some special instructions to around 100 people gathered in the courtroom.
“Obviously there are two different factions here and that’s fine,” Sherrill told the group before recessing the hearing. “You can go whichever way you feel. At the very least there were some poor decisions made which led to us being here.
“The boys that have had the courage to sit up here and tell what happened in court, they shouldn’t have to feel any animosity,” the judge continued. “There’s enough bad things for kids to have to work through. This doesn’t need to have an adverse affect on their friendships or at school. The last thing we want is a bunch of silly Facebook wars and people being shunned by their friends.”
He concluded by saying he hoped the large group would have a “nice, peaceful exit off the courthouse grounds.”
The statements shed light on a bitter feud developing between supporters of West and those who accused him of hurting the boys. This feud has manifested itself in discussions online and at Silo School Board meetings.
None of those issues had any bearing on the legal matter at hand. Assistant District Attorney Tim Webster and West’s defense lawyer Joe White questioned the three boys at length about the incident at an April 8 baseball practice.
Each told how they had to “square up” and hit five line drives during baseball practice in a batting cage. They said the eighth grade team would determine if they hit the ball hard enough to avoid “taking one” - referring to an intentional throw to their backsides, from West or another coach.
Photos of each of the boys’ injuries were submitted as evidence. The photos showed marks or bruises on their backs or back of the legs and were taken by Bryan County Sheriff’s Office investigators two days after the alleged incident.
One of the boys testified that he saw one of his teammates fall to his knees after an intentional throw from West. The boy said he felt “heartbroken” about his coach “pegging us,” and that the April 8 practice was the first time the coach used this method on the players.
Each boy indicated that a different coach used the same method but the throws did not cause pain or leave marks. Testimony revealed that all of the boys involved were able to participate in baseball games later in the same afternoon as the April 8 practice, and none needed medical attention for their injuries.
At one point Judge Sherrill asked one of the boys if they knew what to do if someone threw toward them in an actual game situation. The boy replied “to get out of the way.”
“Did you have that option during this practice?” the judge asked.
“No sir,” was the boy’s response.
West, 43, faces seven counts of felony injury to a minor child and could face up to life in prison. He is under an agreed order not to coach baseball pending the outcome of this case.
He has been a baseball coach and school teacher at Silo for 15 years prior to this incident, and was assistant coach of several state championship and finalist teams at Silo High School under Head Coach Billy Jack Bowen.