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Bus crash survivor tells story of recovery, faith

Published: Sunday, Jan. 5 2014 5:25 p.m. MST

University of Utah student Laramie Riggs gets a kiss from her professor Carolyn Bliss, with professor Carolan Ownby looking on. Riggs survived critical injuries sustained in a bus crash July 6, 2013, that killed seven and injured 35 in Ecuador.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

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CLEARFIELD — Poised and jovial, Laramie Riggs spoke to her congregation at the Elevation Church on Sunday about her eye-opening experience surviving a deadly bus crash in Ecuador.

Riggs, with a scarf partially obscuring her neck brace, said that before the accident she was wrapped up in figuring out her future academic and professional plans. She said she had lost sight of important things by focusing too heavily on money and schooling.

"God wanted me to wake up," she said. "When you're lying in a hospital bed, none of that works. I can't buy my way out of death, I can't outsmart it."

The 21-year-old University of Utah student was completing an internship in Ecuador in July when she was involved in an accident that ultimately resulted in 12 deaths. She and 42 people were traveling near the town on Alausí in the Chimborazo province of Ecuador when their bus lost traction, left the road and rolled.

Riggs suffered five broken ribs and two collapsed lungs and underwent surgery for several damaged vertebrae. She said on Sunday that the experience doesn't seem real to her and much of what happened remains a blurred memory.

She remembers getting on the bus, she said, and then waking up in a hospital unsure of where she was and speaking Spanish with the staff.

"Apparently when you’re on death's doorstep God gives you the ability to speak four languages," she said.

At first, she said, she was afraid and in total pain. But she felt peace after hearing the reassurances of an Ecuadorian medical student, an American missionary named Wanda Talley who assisted her in the hospital and an unkown Ecuadorian woman who visited her every day to pray.

"That was just so inspiring," Riggs said. "that someone who didn’t even know me would come to my hospital bed and pray for this pasty white girl."

Talley, who became a constant presence in Riggs' hospital room contacting family and providing help, also took part in the Sunday service at Elevation Church, a non-denominational Christian congregation affiliated with the Assemblies of God.

She said she received an email from one of the leaders of Elevation Church after Riggs' accident and happened to live five miles away from the hospital. She described her role in Riggs' recovery as just one of many instruments being guided by a higher power.

"I was just one person in that grand scheme of things because I happened to be in Ecuador and I happened to be in the right place at the right time," she said.

Riggs, a volleyball player and runner before the accident, said she's been cautioned about exerting herself but still plans to find ways to be active. She said she'd like to go skydiving, for example, but will have to be careful.

She also said that part of what motivated her in her recovery was having role models like Talley to look up to. She said that by sharing her story and trying to live her life right she can hopefully be that role model to someone else.

"What I can suggest to you is find your own Wanda," she said. "Find somebody who is stable in their faith, somebody who really emulates Jesus."

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com, Twitter: bjaminwood

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