Saturday, August 4, 2012

Volunteer crushed by tree continues campground duties

Robert Turner sits on the stump of the tree that crushed him August 5th, 2010.

BLM Volunteer Robert Turner's dedication to duty as a campground host at the BLM's Shoup Bridge Recreation Site near Salmon, Idaho, might be without peer in the annals of campground hosting.



If the video won't load--here's the link: http://youtu.be/EWWj0NReUUA

On his 79th birthday August 5, 2010, Turner was crushed into the grass of Camp Site #2 by a huge, mature cottonwood tree well over two feet diameter at its base.  He suffered various broken bones and internal injuries but bounced back to continue to serve as campground host at Shoup Bridge in 2011 and 2012.
On any given day, you'll find the smiling, jovial Turner busy about the Recreation Site greeting visitors, checking in campers, cleaning toilets, watering grass as if nothing ever happened back on that fateful day two years ago.

A picture of the worn photo Turner carries in his bib overalls.  This is the tree that crushed him.
Turner had changed out of his trademark bib overalls to go to a birthday party in his honor when a sudden, severe wind storm microburst blew in out of nowhere gusting without warning to 59 mph..  Turner saw and heard the giant tree "explode" and tried his best to run clean.  He failed.  The tree basically flattened him in the grass.  He doesn't remember much after hearing his bones breaking until someone said the ambulance was there.  He's heard it took eight people to lift up the tree to free him for the paramedics.  Turner thanks God he wasn't crushed on the asphalt of the camp site parking apron.  He thinks being crushed on the grass a.saved his life.  Turner was in the Salmon hospital 13 days before beginning extensive rehabilitation.  He still endures lingering affect of the injuries but goes on about his duties as a campground host with the energy of a 50-year-old tending to chores for over 12 hours each day.
Turner doesn't know the precise spot there he was crushed into the grass.  He thinks it is in this area.

Turner says he doesn't think much about trees but he gets real skittish when the wind comes up.  "That's when I head for the motorhome," he said with a wry chuckle.  Looking at trees of similar diameter it's hard to imagine surviving a direct hit by one of them.  Likewise, looking at the photos Turner carries in his bib overalls pocket, it's difficult to comprehend just what it much have been like to be crushed by a giant tree and not only live to tell about it but go right back to being a volunteer again.
Robert Turner has a natural gift of gab and eagerly engages everyone and anyone in conversations, tales and stories about just about anything and everything.  Here he regales a camper the night of August 3 alongside The Salmon River.
Mature cottonwood trees often have hollow, rotted insides.  Cottonwood "blow downs" are common along The Salmon River.  Turner's own experience should serve as a reminder to fishermen, hunters, hikers, riders and recreationists that seeking cover in a mature cottonwood riparian area might not always be the best or safest idea.  Likewise, boaters who seek to ride out a wind storm in the lee of streambank cottonwood trees need to be aware those same stately trees could come crashing down in seconds with little warning
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Click thumbnail for larger version.

Here is the excerpt in italics from Page 1 of Salmon, Idaho's "The Recorder-Herald" issue August 12, 2010 that told the story a week after it happened.

"The Shoup Bridge Campground host, Robert Turner, had just checked in some campers and was headed for his motorhome when a big gust of wind hit.  "I looked up and the tree in front of me just exploded," said Turner.

"I turned to run the other way but I didn't make it.  The tree landed right on top of me.  There were other parts of the tree stuck straight in the ground so I am blessed I wasn't under one of those."

Turner's right hip, ball and socket were broken and he has some compression fractures of his lower spine.  His left side and back are one solid bruise that's nearly black in color.

The family was just getting ready to go out for dinner to celebrate Turner's 79th birthday.  His wife, Betty, who saw the tree hit her husband, said "We are so blessed that he is still here.  The hospital has given him excellent care."

Son Blaine said, "I am very impressed with this hospital.  For a small community, it's incredible."  He also commented that last year the family had gathered for a reunion and had their picture taken beside the tree that fell on his Dad.

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