He thought he was going to die pinned under his truck, but his sister never gave up searching for him
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IDAHO FALLS — Joe Rightmire was sure he was going to die.
He was pinned underneath his pickup truck, couldn’t move at all, and his head was partially submerged in water with sharp sticks jabbing into his scalp.
For 48 hours, he waited for help to arrive while one person was determined to find him: his sister, Tasha Goforth.
Sitting next to the EMTs who came to the rescue, Rightmire and Goforth spoke publicly about the harrowing situation for the first time Friday during a news conference at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center. With bruises on his face, arms wrapped in bandages and mud still stuck in his hair, Rightmire says the thought of his dog, Cooper, kept him alive.
“I didn’t want to leave my dog at home alone, so it was either do something to keep my head out of the water or just give up and shove it all the way in,” Rightmire said.
The 21-year-old was in a remote area of Bonneville County near Taylor Mountain Road and Henry Creek Road on Saturday night to meet up with a friend. While he was traveling down a dirt road, Rightmire says, a small white car came around a corner, and he quickly swerved so his three-quarter ton white pick-up truck wouldn’t hit the vehicle.
“It was just instinct to jolt the wheel because of where they were at, and I knew I was going to hit them,” he says. “I really don’t remember much after that besides waking up the next day, and I thought I was still dreaming. I didn’t know where I was at. All I could see was dirt and light and it took me a few hours to even realize that I was underneath my truck.”
Rightmire’s truck had rolled down a ravine and landed on its side in a small, narrow creek bed. He was partially ejected and pinned to the ground by the truck. After “freaking out” for about 20 minutes, he says he tried to pull himself up with his leg.
“I started sticking my left leg up into the top corner of my windshield where the passenger side was,” Rightmire says. “I pulled myself up with my ankle to get my face out of the mud. My arm was tucked underneath me, and I couldn’t move it.”
For two days, Rightmire stayed in that tight, confined position. He remembers having delusional thoughts and carrying on conversations in his mind with his sister and other people.
At one point, he thought he may have signed up to be on a reality show, and this was an obstacle that he had to overcome.
“I was adamant that I was going to die because I wasn’t sure if anyone was looking for me. I could hear vehicles going down the road. I was screaming and crying, trying to get someone’s attention, and where my truck was you wouldn’t have been able to see me or hear me,” Rightmire recalls.
As Rightmire fought to stay alive, Goforth says she contacted multiple law enforcement agencies who said they couldn’t help.
The Idaho Falls Police Department reports a call came into dispatch at 10:15 p.m. Sunday reporting that Rightmire had not returned home. In speaking to the family member, it was believed at that time that he was in the area of Wolverine Canyon in Bingham County.
The officer notified both the Bingham and Jefferson County Sheriff’s Offices, as there was a possibility that Rightmire may have been in either jurisdiction.
Because nobody knew exactly where he was, Goforth gathered some friends Monday night to go search for him.
“We were out there for about 20 minutes when Jason (a friend) saw trash on the road that been in Joe’s truck,” Goforth says. “He got out and yelled at me to drive down to (cell phone) service and call for help.”
Rightmire remembers the moment.
“Jason gets out, and I hear him say, ‘They just leave this crap here’ (referring to the garbage on the side of the road), and I just started screaming and crying,” Rightmire says. “He was like, ‘We found him! We found him!”
Connor Cook and Jeff Hardy, firefighters with the Idaho Falls Fire Department, quickly arrived and knew they would need additional help. They called for a medical helicopter and additional units from the fire department and Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office.
“When we initially arrived on the scene, the truck didn’t look that bad, but we knew the rescue was going to be extremely technical,” Cook tells EastIdahoNews.com. “I hadn’t seen anything quite like that in eight years of doing this and, I swear, all you could see looking in the truck was an eyeball, the corner of his mouth and a hand.”
For two hours, crews worked to get Rightmire out. They used heavy extrication equipment and inserted large airbags under the truck before inflating them.
Rightmire remembers Hardy held his hand the entire time and continually reassured him that everything was going to be ok.
“I can’t give these guys enough gratitude for getting me out of there and making sure I was OK,” Rightmire says, wiping tears from his eyes. “They were heroes, and they thought quick, and as the airbags lifted up, I could move my head.”
When it was finally safe to remove Rightmire from the truck, he was flown to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center with a broken collarbone, serious bruising, a hurt ankle and other injuries. He’s taking his time recovering but is starting to walk again and should be released from the hospital soon.
“I just have to thank Tasha. No one even bothered caring where I was or what I was doing except for her, and that means a lot,” he says.
Rightmire is also thankful for Cook and Hardy, who have visited him at EIRMC, and other rescuers who came to his aide Monday night. He knows he’s alive because of them.
“I just want to say thank you. (They) got down in that truck right there with me, and it meant so much. They kept me calm all the way through it, and I’m so grateful,” he says.