Eastern Idaho State Fair stunt performers survived devastating car crash

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Kristen Johnson, also known as Lady Houdini, and her husband Kevin Ridgeway, suffered severe injuries in a car crash that was caused by a distracted driver in January. However, they have made a strong recovery and will perform their escape artist show at the Eastern Idaho State Fair in Blackfoot from Sept. 1 to 9. They are posing behind the car seat that Ridgeway was sitting on when the crash occurred. | David Ashby, Idaho State Journal

BLACKFOOT — On Jan. 12, Kristen Johnson and Kevin Ridgeway had their lives turned upside down.

Johnson, who is known as escape artist Lady Houdini, and her husband, Ridgeway, were severely injured in a car crash in West Palm Beach, Florida.

As they were driving through an intersection, a Range Rover traveling at 50 mph ran a red light and crashed into couple’s vehicle. The 17-year-old motorist at the helm of the Range Rover was texting and driving when the collision occurred.

Even though Johnson and Ridgeway suffered extensive injuries in the crash, the duo is already back on tour and will perform at this year’s Eastern Idaho State Fair in Blackfoot, which begins Friday and lasts till Sept. 9.

Escaping from a water torture chamber and hanging upside down while being confined in a straight jacket are hallmarks of Lady Houdini’s shows. But recovering from the devastating car crash has proven to be Johnson and Ridgeway’s most astonishing feat.

The Crash

Ridgeway, who serves as the emcee and assists Johnson during Lady Houdini Escape Shows, took the biggest brunt of the impact, since the collision occurred on the driver’s side and Ridgeway was at the wheel.

“The Range Rover was 20 inches inside of our car resting beside my chest,” he said.

Ridgeway’s injuries included a broken leg, five fractures in his pelvis, eight shattered ribs, a collapsed lung and two brain hemorrhages. He also lost a kidney, which required 24-hour dialysis for five weeks.

Johnson said her husband’s injuries were so severe that doctors placed him in a paralytic state for an extended period of time after the car wreck so he could heal.

Johnson also suffered extensive trauma in the crash. She suffered multiple broken ribs, a punctured lung and a third-degree separated shoulder. She also sustained a concussion and is still suffering from double vision.

Before the car crash, Ridgeway was prepping for a bodybuilding contest and weighed 206 pounds. After he regained consciousness almost six weeks later, he had lost 66 pounds and didn’t even recognize the frail individual staring back at him in the mirror.

“The doctors told me the only reason I survived the wreck was because of my mass,” he said.

Kristen Johnson, aka Lady Houdini, performs her water torture chamber act to a packed audience. She will perform at the Eastern Idaho State Fair in Blackfoot Sept. 1 to 9. | Idaho State Journal

The Show Must Go On

It took many months of recuperating and physical therapy before Ridgeway and Johnson were back on their feet.

Ridgeway had to use a walker and leg braces for awhile before he was able to walk without assistance. He’s even gained 47 pounds.

“He’s a walking miracle,” Johnson said.

For Johnson, who suffered a collapsed lung in the crash, it was imperative that she begin her pool training to prepare for her water torture chamber act, where she is submerged in a large tank of water and has to free herself from her shackles to escape.

Though the escape from the water chamber tests Johnson’s physical abilities, being shackled underwater tests her mental strength as well.

“It’s a tremendous psychological battle,” she said.

Johnson said she has performed the water torture chamber escape act more than 1,900 times in her career. Only twice has Ridgeway had to extract her from the water. Once was during the halftime show of an NBA game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Detroit Pistons.

The other time had a bit of a sentimental ending. As he tried to revive her, Ridgeway kept asking, “Kristen, do you know who I am?”

Johnson smiled and said, “You’re the love of my life.”

But despite her experience with the water torture chamber, Johnson said the act still makes her nervous.

“I call it controlled anxiety,” she said. “I don’t feel like my chest is going to explode anymore, but I still have a lot of anxiety where I work to keep my heart rate down. I don’t want to be relaxed because then I become complacent.”

A few weeks ago at a fair in Rock Springs, Wyoming, Lady Houdini returned for a series of shows, the first since the devastating car crash. The very first performance at that fair was even shown on Facebook Live.

It was the ultimate test of strength for both Johnson and Ridgeway, but they passed.

“Yes, I’m still here,” Johnson laughs. “I survived.”

Thankfully, the shows went on without a hitch, though stamina was an issue.

“After the third day, you could see the energy being sucked right out of him,” Johnson said about her husband.

A New Act

The Lady Houdini Escape Show will be held every day at the Eastern Idaho State Fair in the West Events Area.

Over the past few weeks, Johnson and Ridgeway have performed the Lady Houdini Escape Shows at fairs in Rock Springs, Wyoming, and Billings, Montana. The Eastern Idaho State Fair will be their third fair since the crash.

The show is returning to Blackfoot after an appearance three years ago. But those who saw the death-defying escape attempts in 2014 will notice a slight change in this year’s performance.

Since their near-fatal car crash, Johnson and Ridgeway have devoted a segment of their show to speak about the dangers of distracted driving and to share their story and their recovery.

{span style=”font-size: 12px;”}{span}“I came to the realization that I can’t change anything about what happened, so hopefully we can use it to make a difference,” Ridgeway said.{/span}{/span}

{span style=”font-size: 12px;”}They will even display the car seat that Ridgeway was sitting on when the wreck occurred. The heavily damaged, torn-up seat is meant to show the fair attendees the destruction caused by drivers who don’t pay attention to the road.{/span}

So far, discussing the crash and their recovery has won praise from their audiences.

Fair attendees have approached Ridgeway and Johnson after their performances to shake their hands and tell them their own stories. Some were paramedics who see the damage caused by distracted driving every day and thanked Johnson and Ridgeway for sharing their story.

Some even provided advice. One man in Rock Springs told Ridgeway to tell audiences to buy their teenagers cars with stick shifts, because they will have their hands on the gear stick and not on their cellphones.

While dining at a restaurant in Billings with a group of friends a few weeks ago, a local pastor came up to Johnson and Ridgeway and said her church was praying for them. Many members of the congregation had seen the Lady Houdini shows at previous fairs and read about the car crash on Facebook.

“We’re very thankful for the support and the prayers that have been poured onto us,” Johnson said.

This article was originally published in the Idaho State Journal. It is used here with permission.

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