CEDAR CITY — A Cedar City man’s camping trip with family and friends almost ended in tragedy.
Last weekend, Gregg Richey was camping with family about an hour from home. While they were moving to a new camping site known as Mitchell’s Sawmill, a thunderstorm moved into the area and Richey was struck by lightning. His family didn’t know if he was going to make it.
“'It's the scariest thing to witness someone you love be struck by lightning and maybe not make it in the end,” said Richey's 17-year-old son Jake.
The group had been at a campsite for a few days and needed to move to a different site. They were setting up at the new site when it started to hail.
“So the first thing I decided to do was to open up the awning,” Gregg Richey said. “I lifted the awning pole up, and I heard a boom and I grabbed my elbow.” He has no memory of what happened after that.
“We see Gregg fall over underneath his awning, and then he starts to flop around like he’s having a seizure,” friend Ross Hedges said. “His eyes rolled up into his head and he’s not breathing.”
Bob Richey didn’t see what happened to his son.
“I heard Patty (Gregg Richey's wife) scream and turned around and saw somebody going down,” Bob Richey said. “I didn’t know who it was. I turned him over and it happened to be Gregg.”
He had been hit by lightning, was not breathing and his heart had stopped.
“It looked like his life was just done,” Jake Richey said.
Bob Richey started doing chest compressions on his son. “After four or five, six, seven compressions, he started moving and rallied, but he was still not coherent,” he said.
"I could see my dad over me, but I couldn't feel him giving me the compressions,” Gregg Richey recalled.
While his father and Hedges were helping him, his oldest son tried to call 911.
"I had the phone in my hand and even though it was dead, I was screaming at it to work because I was so afraid,” Jake Richey said. He couldn’t get a cell signal from the site.
But then Richey started moving. They took him inside the trailer and evaluated the situation.
“After arguing with me because I wanted to stay, I wanted to continue to hunt, they forcibly wanted me to get to the hospital,” Richey said.
They carried him to the truck because he had lost feeling in his legs, and rushed him to the emergency room at Valley View Medical Center in Cedar City. In addition to the problem with his legs, his face was burned and he said he felt like his eyes were on fire.
During the drive to the hospital, he said he lost complete sensation in his legs for about 15 minutes, which was very scary.
Doctors treated him and kept him under observation for 12 hours to make sure everything was OK with his heart.
He was released from the hospital Sunday morning and was back at work Monday, but he had a constant headache, his eyes still hurt and he hadn't gained full use of his legs.
"They feel like I went up and down a mountain six to eight miles, and they feel like spaghetti,” he said.
He doesn't know what will happen in the long term, but he's happy to be alive.
"Everything I know I've learned from him,” an emotional Grant Richey, 15, said of his father. “And it would have been hard to lose him."
Gregg Richey feels like he cheated death. “Yeah, God kept me alive for another purpose,” he said. “There’s a higher power and certainly I feel that I’m a lucky survivor for sure.”
He wanted people to hear his story because he’s been camping for as long as he can remember and he never thought for one second not to touch poles during a storm. He wants people to be cautious when they are out camping and a storm rolls in.
While he was never afraid of thunderstorms, he said things have changed. “Now, when I hear thundering, I pretty much go for cover,” he said with a laugh.
He still wants to go back into the mountains and was planning a new camping trip with his sons.
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company