Rotten tree falls, injures teenagers

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A weekend campout almost turned tragic Saturday when a dead tree collapsed on a group of teens who just wanted a place to hitch their hammocks.

Two boys were injured in the incident and are recovering.

Clayton Simmons, 15, suffered a fractured pelvis when the rotten trunk fell on him; the Sabine High School freshman didn’t require surgery and is recuperating at home. Simmons’ friend, classmate and fellow-camper Preston Collins was struck in the face by the falling tree – flown to Children’s Hospital in Dallas, he underwent surgery on his injuries Tuesday.

“It could have been a lot worse,” Simmons said this week, glad his friend is going to be OK and hoping the episode can be a learning experience for others.

Simmons praised another teen, 15-year-old Justin Pomykal, for freeing him from the fallen tree as Collins rushed to get help Saturday. Simmons’ younger brother – Clayne, 10 – escaped injury in the incident.

“It was just a little campout,” Simmons said. “Just having some friends over.”

There were 10 boys camping out Friday night. They strung their hammocks without incident.

“They all held up during the night,” he added. Most of the others had left by about 11:30 a.m. Saturday morning. Of the remaining campers, “All four of us decided to hang up the hammocks like bunk beds. We picked two random trees – we didn’t realize one of them was dead.”

The campers climbed into the hammocks.

“It held up for a while,” Simmons said. “All the sudden, the hammocks fell down. We thought it was just the hammocks. We didn’t realize the tree was falling.”

Simmons younger brother was thrown clear of the trunk as Collins and Simmons fell on Pomykal and the tree followed. Injured, Collins went for help as Pomykal lifted the trunk just enough for Simmons to get out from underneath it.

“We still don’t know how he really did that,” Simmons said. “It’s a really heavy tree.”

Collins was immediately taken to Dallas. Simmons was transported first to Good Shepherd Medical Center in Longview before being taken to Children’s Hospital by ambulance Saturday evening.

Ultimately, “They released me,” Simmons said. “They said I could heal through it,” and he’s rooting for Collins’s speedy recovery.

Days later, Kilgore Assistant Fire Chief Mike Simmons (father of two of the four boys) is breathing easier with the two teens recovering. Once they’re back in shape, he’s confident they’ll be ready to camp out again soon enough.

“They love doing it and having a good time,” he said. “How ‘bout we just learn from it. They can probably teach people from our experiences.”

For Clayton Simmons, there are a handful of lingering lessons from the weekend. For one, pay attention to your surroundings, be cautious and don’t take little details for granted.

At the very least, “Make sure the tree isn’t dead before you hang hammocks.”

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