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For the week of March 14 through 20, 2001

Tristen Breipenfeldt’s wild ride

Snowmobile runs amok at camp for blind

Express Staff Writer

Camp organizers and an emergency medical technician gather around Jolynn Page, 16, after an errant snowmobile hit her at the Wood River Lions Club camp for the blind Saturday. Express photo by David Seelig

Mary Mortensen, a fair-skinned teacher who is visually impaired, was inside the dark, windowless lodge explaining to a reporter how the annual Wood River Lions Club winter camp for the blind near Prairie Creek is a great chance for blind teenagers to get out and experience the world since, generally, they live sheltered lives.

That’s when a 120-horsepower snowmobile revved out of control, sped past a bench full of blind students, sent its blind driver reeling and plowed into another blind student before bogging down beside the lodge.

All morning, about a dozen snowmobilers from the Sawtooth Snowmobile Club had been loading the students onto their machines and roaring around the landscape just for the thrill of it. But when a teenager named Tristen Breipenfeldt got on a machine alone and accidentally grabbed the throttle, all that immediately stopped.

Outside, Jolynn Page, 16, lay flattened in the snow behind the portable toilet she had just exited. Breipenfeldt, wearing a red helmet, disentangled herself from the woodpile where she had just been thrown, Page tentatively moved an arm across her torso and moaned.

"It hurts," she said.

Instantly, a swarm of people, including an emergency medical technician, who had volunteered his time for such emergencies, gathered around Page, while others wandered around asking questions about what had just happened.

Breipenfeldt removed her helmet and explained to anyone who would listen, "He didn’t tell me not to push the throttle all the way."

For the next hour-and-a-half, camp organizers worked to strap Page and another student involved in the accident, Rachel Clark, 16, to plywood boards so they could be taken by sled to an ambulance waiting on Highway 75.

On Monday, Bill Nelson, a Lions Club member, reported that Page and Clark had been treated and released with only bumps and bruises from St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center after spending several hours in the emergency room.

Those were the events that dominated much of the Lions Club winter camp for the blind Saturday, a planned fun day to be devoted to cross-country skiing, tubing and snowmobile rides for the 35 blind teenagers who had gathered from all over the state at the 4H camp about 15 miles north of Ketchum.

The accident dampened the spirits of most. Some wept and consoled each other. Some went indoors and sat silently around the fire. Snowmobile club member Carl Cutler gathered his peers for an impromptu safety meeting.

"Let’s not let it get `em in a slump and let it ruin their day," he said.

On Monday, Vicki Roper, the director of the Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind’s Outreach program said, "So far, parents have been very understanding and reasonable" about the accident.

She said that despite the accident, campers were dancing to bluegrass music later in the evening and performing for each other in a talent show.

Clark danced, too, she said, but "Jolynn was too sore. She just needed Tylenol. I’m sure her contusions were just starting to be felt."

Roper said the accident looked more spectacular than it was—"but it was scary. We’re certainly not going to take it lightly."



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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.