Cunningham OK; Carollo fifth in race

Published 5:00 am Monday, August 7, 2000

CANTON – A former Brookhaven balloonist returned to the skies atthe North American Balloon Association U.S. National ChampionshipSunday following a Friday accident that left a Texas balloonistdead.

Bill Cunningham, 52, formerly of Brookhaven, was shocked whilehe and Gordon Rainey, 53, of San Angelo, Texas, were trying to freea hot-air balloon that became tangled in power lines Friday around9:15 a.m.

Rainey was killed but Cunningham, who worked with Herring GasCompany in Brookhaven approximately three years from 1992-1995, wasnot seriously injured. After being treated at a Jackson hospital,Cunningham was able to fly in the competition Sunday and finishedseventh.

“Bill’s OK. He’s doing real good …,” said Bert Carollo, afellow balloonist from Brookhaven. “The good news is God gave him asecond chance.”

Carollo finished fifth in the weekend balloon race. He was thehighest-ranking Mississippian in the competition.

“I’m proud to finish fifth,” Carollo said. “Those guys aregood.”

Steve Jones, of Texas, beat out Steve Wilkinson of California inthe hot-air balloon race to win first place. Ron Frusher and BillBussey, both of Texas, came in third and fourth.

Carollo said Jones has made a habit of marking significantbirthdays by winning the balloon competition.

At age 30 in 1980, Jones won and he won again in 1990 at age 40,Carollo said. Carollo said balloonists had a good idea who wasgoing to win this year’s competition when Jones turned 50.

“You couldn’t break up a streak like that,” Carollo said.