Courtland man’s recovery continues

Published 10:39 am Thursday, June 28, 2012

Susan and Jeremy Everett share a moment on the porch swing at their Darden Mill Estates home outside Courtland. Jeremy Everett 15 months ago was seriously burned in an explosion on a logging site. GWEN ALBERS/TIDEWATER NEWS

COURTLAND—Conscious and without knowing it, Jeremy Everett nearly met death on April 7, 2011.

Suffering the worst degree burns possible over 65 percent of his body after an explosion on a logging site, Everett insisted his three critically injured co-workers be taken to the hospital first.

“I didn’t really know how bad I was hurt,” the Courtland man said. “I didn’t know how bad the other guys were hurt. I made sure I was the last to go.”

Fifteen months after the explosion that resulted in one of the men dying while another remains in rehab, the vividly clear day brings a tear to Everett’s eye.

“I lost a friend that day,” he said. “I will never see him again.”

The 34-year-old was conscious during the hour it took for the ambulance to arrive after the equipment explosion in remote Greensville County.

The next two months are a blank.

Unconscious in the burn center at VCU Medical Center in Richmond, Everett was in the intensive care unit for most of that time. He dropped 60 pounds.

It was touch and go, said his wife, Susan.

“They didn’t offer any encouraging news,” the 31-year-old said. “The quote every day was ‘he’s very, very sick.’”

When Jeremy Everett would occasionally awaken, his wife of nine years was there. Susan Everett wouldn’t leave the hospital, sleeping on the waiting room floor or in a chair. The couple’s children, Jack, 5, and Addison, 3, stayed with family.

When the hospital ordered Susan Everett to leave, she refused. Hospital personnel finally gave her a room in a portion of the building under renovation, where she slept on an air mattress.

“I just took each day one at a time,” said Susan Everett, who gave up her teaching job at Southampton Academy to be with her husband. “We got through the first couple of hours and then the first couple of days.”

Jeremy Everett underwent more than 30 surgeries for his third- and fourth-degree burns. A third-degree burn destroys the skin and layer below it. Fourth-degree burns result in muscle loss.

He remained hospitalized and in rehab for six months. Rehab continues.

Everett’s medical bills for treatment through December totaled $2.5 million, including $24,600 to fly him to VCU. Workers’ compensation insurance is footing the bill.

It was an event that changed Everett’s life.

“I missed a year,” said the 1996 Southampton Academy graduate.

Nearly one year earlier, his father, Michael Everett, had purchased Pinecrest Timber. Jeremy Everett had worked for the Waverly company for 14 years and went from foreman to operations manager.

Working a few miles off Hell’s Island Road near the North Carolina line, Everett and co-workers Lon Bickham, 32, of Hunterdale; Trent Kimbrell, 37, of Chester; and Gary Pierce, 32, of Emporia attempted to use a welder to make a repair on the chipper. The welder wouldn’t work.

“We were trying to figure out what was wrong,” Everett said. “The welder had just come back from the shop, but it wouldn’t weld. It was running and we were brainstorming, and the welder blew up. It was an instant fireball.”

That fireball resulted in Pierce, a father of five, dying six days later. Kimbrell went home after 35 days in the hospital, while Bickham remains in rehab in Richmond.

To complicate matters, the logging site was two miles from the roadway. There was no cell phone service.

Everett’s cousins, Brian Vick of Capron and Deric Everett of Drewryville, were working about 50 to 100 feet from the explosion. One of the guys jumped on Everett to put out the fire. One drove to the road to get cell phone service.

“It wasn’t a simple 911 call,” Everett said. “Being so close to the North Carolina line, it didn’t go directly where it needed to go.”

The first emergency worker arrived in what appeared to be his personal truck.

“There was nothing a first-aid kit could do,” Everett said.

The emergency worker immediately called for four helicopters.

“He’s one of the reasons things went as well as they did,” Everett said.

He hopes to one day return to work, but has been told he will always be in pain.

Everett tries not to dwell on his mishap.

“You try to focus on your family and what you have to do to get better,” he said.