Emergency responder who was resuscitated responding to triple-fatality crash speaks out
POCATELLO — The Bannock County Search and Rescue volunteer who experienced what was believed to be a heart attack while responding to a Father’s Day triple fatal head-on collision has broken his silence about the heroic actions of two Idaho State Police troopers.
Richard Spencer, 64, of Inkom, said he woke up that Sunday morning on Father’s Day and expected it would be a good day.
He never expected to die.
“I planned on cutting some hay that day, or rather watch someone cut it for me,” Spencer said. “But I got a call over the radio for a one-vehicle rollover near the port of entry.”
Spencer hopped in his pickup truck and was the first on scene and observed a white Toyota Tacoma hauling a trailer overturned on the interstate.
After diverting traffic and ensuring the occupants of the vehicle were safe and secure, Spencer said he returned home to check on the cutting of his hay.
“Next thing I know I get a call from someone with the Inkom ambulance crew saying an elderly man fell in the grocery store and broke his kneecap and that he was in extreme pain,” Spencer told the Idaho State Journal. “That was at 10 in the morning.”
After transporting the elderly man to the hospital, Spencer was on his way home again when he heard that a horrific head-on collision happened on Highway 30 just east of McCammon.
“I get back into my truck and head south to see if I can help,” Spencer said. “By the time I get there, Life Flight had landed and was delivering the fourth victim, a 7-year-old child, to the hospital.”
The crash involved two Pocatello teenagers — Eric, 15, and Lauren, 13, Neibaur — who were traveling westbound in a red 1999 Chevrolet C1500 pickup truck. The truck drifted into oncoming traffic and collided head-on with an eastbound white 2011 Chevrolet Suburban driven by Jay Lanningham.
The 7-year-old girl who was being transported via helicopter ambulance when Spencer arrived was a passenger in Lanningham’s SUV and the only survivor in the crash.
“When you look at that vehicle, it was amazing that she lived,” Spencer said.
In charge of extricating the Neibaurs and Lanningham from the wreckage, Spencer said the red pickup truck was so severely damaged that cutters and spreaders were necessary to free the teenagers from the wreckage.
“I put the girl (Lauren) on a backboard and put her on the blind side of the scene so that the vehicles blocked the parents’ view,” Spencer said. “The funeral home hearse arrived about 20 minutes later and we have three of our backboards and equipment tied up. I asked to keep the backboard because it seemed like it was going to be a busy day.”
After transferring the victims to gurneys and into the hearse, Spencer said he began cleaning the backboards.
“I picked up the backboards, took two steps and all of the sudden it was like someone turned off my circuit breaker,” Spencer said. “I faceplanted into the pavement and had a divot from the center of my forehead to my chin and my nose was all messed up.”
Spencer said other first responders must have thought that he had tripped or had fainted. That’s when Idaho State Police trooper Ryan Mattux, who was a former US. Marine, checked Spencer and could not locate a pulse.
“There was no air going in and out — I mean I wasn’t breathing at all,” Spencer said. “They throw me on the backboard, put me on the road and cut open my shirt with shears.”
While Mattux began CPR, fellow Idaho State trooper Spencer Knudsen retrieved an automated external defibrillator from the trunk of a nearby patrol car.
“They put pads on me and a search and rescue volunteer from Downey kept an open airway,” Spencer said. “Long and the short is they put the pads on, advise to stand clear and shock me. It popped me and the search and rescue buddy at my head said he has have never seen anything like it.
“You were dead,” the man told Spencer. “You had no color in your eyes and you took a gasp for air and had a pulse back.”
Because the ground and air ambulances were transporting victims to the hospital, Spencer said that Knudsen cleared out his patrol car and left the accident scene where he met another ambulance at milepost 55 between McCammon and Inkom.
“I came to for a minute in the back of the vehicle saying to myself, this isn’t good,” Spencer said. “I heard my search and rescue buddies say, ‘Talk to me, hang on.’”
The next thing Spencer remembers is waking up in a hospital with a doctor standing over him and saying he was lucky to be alive.
“The situation was like eating liver, which I hate,” Spencer said. “It was hard to digest what had just happened.”
What was initially believed to be a heart attack was actually something doctors call sudden death syndrome, Spencer said.
“Which was something I had to look up to find out what it meant,” Spencer said. “I basically died. I mean, at that moment you might as well have started the 2-minute warning clock because that’s all the time I really had left.”
Spencer continued. “If it would have happened in my back field, driving or anywhere else, I would be dead and the coroner would say I suffered a heart attack without knowing why.”
A volunteer for the Inkom Fire Department and Bannock County search and rescue for 10 years, Spencer said the head-on collision he responded to on Father’s Day was in the top five of accidents he has ever witnessed.
“What stuck out was those kids were just out having a good day and for whatever reason in that moment in time that truck curved over into the left lane and collided into this other car. And people died,” Spencer said. “It was a moment in time that I will never be able to explain why it had to happen that way.”
Spencer credits both Idaho State troopers for saving his life that day, adding that both men didn’t panic when he went down and were systematic in their treatment method.
“The bottom line is that those guys saved my life and it hacks me because I am normally that guy,” Spencer said. “I’m just amazed that we live in an area where people care about other people and they are willing to help.”
This article was originally published in the Idaho State Journal. It is used here with permission.