Dresslerville family copes with losing home
May 25, 2005
For as long as most Dresslerville residents can remember, the little white house with green trim has stood on the corner of Wa She Shu (“Washoe People”) Way and Patdul ‘NeGeeh (“Eagle”) Way.
Norman and Justine Koos purchased the house, which was originally constructed in Virginia City, when it was next to “the old Shell station,” near the Gardnerville “S” curve.
They had it moved to the Washoe Indian community of Dresslerville in 1962, and it has stood there since.
But not anymore.
The house where Lester John Koos, 37, and his siblings were raised, was destroyed by an alleged arsonist Tuesday, along with the memories stored inside.
“When I went in there, I started remembering, this was here and that was there,” Koos said. “It’s hard to even think about. It’s overwhelming.”
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Wearing surgical masks to protect them from the ash and asbestos, Koos and several friends and family members sifted through the charred remains Wednesday.
“Uncle!” Rueben Vasquez, 12, called out.
“Are you missing some binoculars?” he asked, holding up a mass of mangled black plastic.
Koos couldn’t help but laugh.
But then his eyes misted.
“It’s hard to see my kids’ toys and stuff,” he said, stepping over a pile of blackened children’s books.
His three daughters, ages 3, 11 and 14, are with their mother in Arizona. His 16-year-old son, Kyle, dug through the debris of his former bedroom.
“I still can’t believe it burned down,” Kyle said. “I keep thinking I want to go home, but then I remember I don’t have a home.”
Koos was at his sister Christine’s house when a friend came over to tell him his house was on fire.
“I looked at him like he was joking,” Koos remembers. “Then I saw his face. I just got down here as fast as I could.”
When he arrived, the house was engulfed in flames, and no one knew where Kyle was.
“I yelled in here to see if my son was in here – or if anybody was in here,” Koos said. “Then I started calling anybody and everybody I could think of, where he’d be or who he’d be with.”
They found Kyle about an hour later in Carson City with friends, who were getting tuxedos fitted for prom.
A neighbor, David Lester James, 40, was arrested on a charge of arson and booked into Washoe County Jail. James remained in jail Wednesday. No bail had been set.
However, Koos said he hasn’t had time to even be angry.
“I just keep thinking, ‘How could this happen?'” he said. “It’s like it’s time to wake up – from a nightmare.”
Despite his devastation, Koos has found bright moments. Like the fully intact photo album and Barbie dolls he’d gotten his daughter for Christmas.
“I was so happy, surprised.”
And he’s grateful for the help from the community.
Still, there are things he can’t replace. The comic book collection he was building up for his son was destroyed, and there is no trace of the pictures he had hanging on the walls.
As volunteers sifted through the rubble, pulling tiny necklaces from dampened clumps of ash, the history of the house also began revealing itself.
Several newspapers fell from the attic, including San Francisco’s, The Bulletin, dated Jan. 28, 1903.
Some history was too painful.
Koos’ mother, Justine, who raised her four children there and has seen several of her children grow up there, has not been by.
“I don’t want her to come over,” he said. “She started crying and stuff. I just didn’t want her to see it.”
n Contact reporter Teri Vance at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1272.
You can help
To help the Koos family, send donations to Justine Koos, 1560 Mimdewee Run Gardnerville, NV 89460.
An account has also been set up for the family at Wells Fargo Bank, account No. 9346057350, attention: Lester John Koos.