I probably should have posted this first but I think this is worth sharing with all of you out there. It is from an email I sent to Riley’s brother Travis who left for a year long sojurn to South America on last Thursday as chance would have it. I have edited it somewhat of things of a personal nature but the jist of the event that lead to my typing here is from what I remember. I hope that those that were on the scene will chime in with their tale also so that we can all process the accident and move on from it. Shit happens.
There are some folks mentioned in here that are good friends of mine as I grew up in the Mt. Snow area and as I never get back there anymore I looked up as many folks as I could. Sandra is particular is a very dear friend that got the chance to see Ri at his best and in his element after knowing him mainly from when he was a child before we moved to the Butte.
I will try and describe the events that led to his accident here as best as I can. When we parted on Friday night late he said to come and get him at 8:00 to go to breakfast. Of course I was up much earlier than that and I drove around a bit looking at things from my past in the area around the Mountain. When I went up to his condo at quarter of to see if he was up he was crashed out and didn’t want to get going so I left him there and came back awhile later and he rallyed so just about that time Todd Swim called and wanted to get together so we made a date to get together down at Dot’s. Todd showed up with his twin boys that are 2.5 and about as cute as they get. It was such a great thing to see Todd as a dad and the boys were a real joy for both your brother and me.
We went back up to the condo and got Simon down to halfpipe practice. We spent the morning there doing that and then around noon we went back up to the condo so Simon could get away from the throng and some rest before the comp that evening. We hung out together all afternoon with a few of his crew and they are such a tight bunch it is amazing, just like you and your friends? We went over to the venue later in the afternoon and I hung with Ri while he got Simon out the door and then we went and he set up at a few different points to check camera angles and finally settled in back and away from the crowd skiers right for a long shot up the pipe where there was also a good shot at the big screen. It is amazing how pro he is at his job and confident in all of his actions and seeing him in his element made me feel so much pride.
Just after he setup I got a call from Sandra that she was on her way to the event. I had been trying to get together with her and it was really great of her to show up. She is doing really well Trav. I am so thankful for that. I didn’t really handle Joels death all that well and my shame in that has kept me from staying in touch with her but that is all in the past now. I feel so much better for it also. I found out that Nick Petras, another of Joels old friends that lives in town still, was also out of touch with her and I made him promise to see her ASAP. When Sandra called this morning (she was over here most of the day yesterday) the first thing she said was that Nick had just left so you know how much it meant to her? Moving on Sandra and I watched the event with Ri and Simon ripped. Tanner had whacked his head in the pipe earlier and wasn’t totally on his game but Simon was on a mission and so focused that it would have taken quite a bit to keep him from his goal of gold. You can see his run on Freeskier.com btw.
After Simon’s winning run Ri had it set up that he would leave his tripod and pack with us to go to the finish area to film. Sandra and I found a good spot to look in there and wait for him to surface. When he did we took Sandra over to her Dad’s chalet and dropped her off then went up to the condo and the party phase was on.
We ended up going out to dinner with Simon and his parents, brother and sister, cousins, buddies etc, about 15 all told. After dinner we drove over to a bar where there was a Monster party going on and hung out there til about closing time. Your brother was drinking but not to excess believe me. I was not so as to be the driver type and I drove them up the road a bit to an after hours party at some old school lodge type place. Lots of people there doing jelly shots etc. and the energy level was quite high. There was a downstairs area that had a wood floor and someone was telling me that there was a pool underneath it which was kind of funky I remember thinking at the time.
It was pretty late and I was just kind of wall flowering and wishing I was in bed, remember I had been up since early, early, and Ri came over and sat down next to me. I looked at him and said that he should go hang out with his friends and not to worry about me. He said that they would probably be up until 4 or 5 and so I opted to go back over to Armands. We hugged a bunch of times because we were not going to see each other again probably as we had flights out that day (Sunday) from different airports. It was snowing and my rental car was a POS with pretty bald tires but I had left my cellphone up at his condo to charge because I was thinking I would end up there. I debated for a bit wether or not to go get it and ultimately decided to.
Their condo was slopeside and up a ways so I had to kind of burn the tires up to get up the hill but I made it. Got my phone and said good bye to Simon (we had gotten seperated after dinner) who was there with his brother and a cousin. I finally made it back to Armands about 2 or so in the morning and climbed in bed and took about 2 seconds to fall asleep. I woke up to the sound of my phone ringing and couldn’t get to it before it stopped, after I got my hands on it though it rang again right away and I saw it was your brothers number. I answered and it was TJ Schiller and he told me that Riley had dove into the pool and hit his head and was in bad shape and that they were loading him in to an ambulance and taking him to Bennington and that I should head there myself. My first thought was that it was a joke but he assured me it wasn’t. I quickly got my shit together in my bag and loaded up. Armands drive was full of fresh snow and I remember now thinking that when I drove in I thought that I would have to shovel my way out in the morning early as I had plans with Joseph and Julie to meet for breakfast at their house. Somehow I got out of there on the first try but when I hit the road I was headed in the wrong direction and had to go up to the base of Haystack up the road a bit to turn around. It was so shitty out snowing wet snow and the wipers were all covered with ice so they weren’t doing a good job at all of clearing the windshield. Just as I got to Rte. 100 the ambulance was going by so it really hit home that it was real. Long story short it was a crappy ride over to Bennington and I fell behind the ambulance a bit because I had to stop and clear the wipers a couple of times but I ended up getting to the hospital just after it.
When I got to the ER Ri was howling pretty good in pain. I immediately started to try and comfort him and he fully new I was there as they hadn’t medicated him much yet for pain because of his blood pressure being too low I guess. I helped get him in to the cat scan room and they did that and then returned him to the ER and finally got to giving him some morphine. He was very uncomfortable strapped to the back board thing and complained of pain in his shoulders and the back of his head where it was laying on it. I did my best to support to comfort him and he was very responsive to that. The doctor took me aside after a bit and in to a private area and told me how serious his injury was while showing me the cat scan picture. His vertabrae up by his neck were displaced from each other by about half. They had already determined by scratching his feet, legs and belly that he didn’t have any feeling from the nipples down and the pictures just reinforced how serious the injury was. You can imagine at that point how freaked out I was but I somehow kept it together.
We went back to Ri and he was still in alot of pain but it seemed to help his shoulder pain out if he took his arms up and back behind his head, albeit out to the sides. To see his arms moving under his own free will was like a ray of light to me and he was breathing on his own so we knew that his diaphragm was still working which as bad as all else was looking was really encouraging to see. Finally they were able to start with the morphine and it took 3 loads to get him sedated. He mumbled a few random things as he was going down about getting TJ to a poster signing which is about the only thing that stuck with me.
As I said the weather was really bad and so the flight for life thing couldn’t happen so around 10 or so he was loaded in an ambulance and I hopped in and we headed to Albany about an hour plus away on a good day but slower with the weather like it was. He didn’t make a peep the whole ride which was merciful as I know he didn’t do that on the way to Bennington as evidenced on his friend Lukes face when I saw him at the Bennington ER. The doctors at the Albany ER were real good and they took him to do an MRI and they decided to operate on him to realign and stabilize his spine. I had called your Mom from Bennington and Katrina had been notified by one of his buddies and both at that point were on there way to us which was comforting, yet disturbing to somehow?
I met with the surgeon and he confirmed the original diagnosis and explained the procedure of how they would try and stabilize via going through the side of his throat, but it may be necessary to do that and also go in through the back of his neck. The surgery was due to be 2 or 3 hours minimum and so I settled in to a waiting room. During that time Simon, TJ, Peter Olenick and Jake (the Empire Manager) showed up. The went to get Katrina from airport and I stayed there in a daze. He got out of surgery and moved him to the intensive care unit and I got to see him again and I remember that he looked alot better but when he came out of the anestesia he was pretty uncomfortable and I was glad to be there to comfort him again, what little I could anyway. They finally got him at a level with the meds so that he was somewhat comfortable but he was obviously not happy with the breathing/suction tube stuck down his throat.
Katrina showed up and about turned green upon seeing him laying there. But she came around and went in to Katrinka mode shortly after. I went out to the airport with Jake to pick up Maria (Riley’s Mom), Jake btw is the unsung hero in all this as he was the person that realized that your brother was face down in the pool and got him out of there along with several other things that he has done since that make me realize what a great person he is, and she was of course looking really shook up. We got back to the Hospital and she went to work on transferring energy to Ri in the way that only a mother can. I went back to the Hotel to try and get some sleep and woke up in the morning around 6 with her next to me and I never heard her come in.