A Missoula man’s legs are broken after a bridge jumper landed on him while he was floating the Clark Fork River last weekend.
While Andy Hill is an avid fisherman and floater, Sunday was his first time on the river in an inner tube. He and his wife, Amy, had so much fun the first time down, they decided to do it again.
They put in at the Sha-Ron access in East Missoula and had just emerged on the downriver side of the Bandmann Bridge when the bridge jumper slammed into Hill’s lap.
Hill never saw the other man coming.
“All of a sudden, I was in intense pain, and I was under water,” Hill said Wednesday, both his legs in braces and propped up in a wheelchair.
The man who jumped and a friend helped pull Hill to shore, where another man helped get him out of the tube before emergency responders arrived.
Later at the hospital, Hill learned that the upper tips of his fibulas were broken and that his ACLs and PCLs likely were torn in both legs. In addition, his left femur is cracked.
A long recovery awaits Hill, who may have to undergo surgery and will be in a wheelchair at least through August and possibly into September.
In the meantime, the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office is recommending a misdemeanor negligent endangerment charge be filed against the bridge jumper. The charging process could take weeks, based on the number of other cases pending evaluation by the County Attorney’s Office.
The couple has kept a sense of humor through the bizarre experience and expressed thanks for those who helped at the scene.
And Hill said there is one positive about the situation.
He’ll be able to work out the kinks in his newly formed FISHabilities program. The nonprofit will enable people with disabilities to enjoy the outdoors and fishing as a form of therapy. Patients won’t be accepted until the spring.
Until then, Hill said, he can be a guinea pig for modifying equipment – an eventuality he never anticipated.
Nonetheless, both husband and wife said they are angry about what happened.
“It’s infuriating, for one, that I’m even in this situation,” Hill said, adding that his wife and children have had to shoulder the bulk of his care.
“I have to rely on them for everything,” he said.
Amy Hill has had to miss work to take her husband to doctor appointments. He was just returning to normal after lung surgery about a month ago and now he needs more medical care for an accident that never should have happened, she said.
“It was totally preventable,” she said.
Convoluted county ordinances prohibit jumping from bridges, said Paige Pavalone, a Missoula County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman.
Signs posted at Bandmann Bridge clearly state no jumping is allowed, Pavalone said.
The man who jumped was not arrested because he was injured as well. It is not clear if alcohol contributed to the incident, she added.
The name of the man who jumped has not been released, pending formal charges.
Pavalone said Sunday’s accident seems to be a rare occurrence. However, increased pedestrian and vehicle traffic around popular river spots do heighten the danger for recreationists.
Deputies try to boost patrols, but emergencies take higher precedence.
“We do what we can, but we just ask people to do what they can to follow the rules,” Pavalone said.
Hill said he hopes criminal charges make the person who injured him and anyone else who considers jumping from a bridge think about the consequences.
People downplay the danger of jumping off bridges, for both the jumpers and unsuspecting floaters below, he said.
However, several people have sent him messages telling of close calls. The jumper could have paralyzed him or landed on his wife instead, he said.
“Think about me before you jump off a bridge,” he said.