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Together, couple survives hunting accident — and the laughs at their expense

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BRANDON

Steve Egan raised his rifle to finish the job. From 90 feet away, he was sure he saw a wounded hog on its back, feet wiggling in the air. Assuming it was the same hog he had shot a few minutes earlier, he found his mark and fired a .30-caliber bullet. He jogged toward the tree line to get a look. The shape on the ground didn't make sense. He thought: "What is this person doing here?" "Steve, you shot me." Lisa. His girlfriend.

A year ago in the woods of Flagler County, something terrible happened to Steve Egan and Lisa Simmons. It was an ordeal that for many months they were reluctant to talk about publicly.

But that sure didn't stop the rest of us.

• • •

Lisa Simmons, 51-year-old country girl, didn't scream. She had been a nurse for heart doctors for 18 years. She looked at her left leg, splayed at an unnatural angle from her body. She knew the blood pumping on the ground came from her femoral artery.

"I don't want to die out here in these woods," she thought.

Egan yanked off his belt and made a tourniquet. Simmons held it tight. He ran back to the hunting blind to find their only cellphone and steadied his hands to call 911.

Neither knew exactly where they were. The sun was setting.

He watched her skin turn from pale to gray. They listened to sirens grow close, then far away, then close, then far away again. The cellphone died.

He told her to stay awake, told her he was sorry, told her how much he loved her.

She told him she loved him too. She told him she was going to be all right. But she could feel blood seeping past the belt, trickling down her leg. How could she die before holding a grandchild at least once?

By the time the helicopter came, almost an hour after the shooting, she had grown silent.

Doctors operated all through Saturday night. She needed 14 pints of blood. She almost died twice during the surgery. The trauma surgeon would later say it was the worst noncombat gun injury he had seen anyone survive.

• • •

The news accounts that appeared in Monday's newspapers were short on details. Most carried a variation of this headline: Man mistakes woman for hog, shoots her.

The jokes followed soon after.

Bubba the Love Sponge mentioned it on his morning show. He sent listeners to Simmons' Facebook page to see if she looked like a hog. The comments were so mean, Simmons' kids deactivated the page. When the page disappeared, Simmons' friends thought she might have died.

The couple told staff at Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach they did not want to release a statement. The story went viral anyway. The head nurse told them a reporter tried to sneak in to interview them.

Most blogs used stock pictures of a wild hog to go with the story. One used an illustration of a pig in pearls putting on lipstick.

Jay Leno couldn't resist:

"I don't know what is worse for the girl: having your boyfriend shoot you in the legs or saying the reason he did it was that he mistook you for a hog. Pretty awful."

"The good news," he reassured his audience, "is that the woman's going to be fine."

In the hospital, Simmons was missing four inches of her thigh bone. Doctors worried they might have to amputate her leg if the repair on the artery didn't hold.

• • •

The couple met nine years ago at O'Brien's Irish Pub in Brandon. She came for happy hour and there were two seats at the bar. One in front of a video game, the other next to Egan.

"Looks like you're the lesser of two evils," she told him, and sat down.

They hit it off.

A few years later, they took a cruise together to Mexico and went on a "nonsponsored" outing. When they returned, the ship had left. They were told by a cruise line representative they were in Mexico illegally. They had no passports. Just a bottle of tequila, a bottle of hot sauce, a ship registration card and a wet towel. In customs, she watched Egan laugh about their predicament. He never lost his cool, never assigned blame. She fell in love.

They didn't fight a year later when they had a house fire. Or the year after that when the house started cracking up the middle from a sink hole. They moved with two dogs into a small trailer out front and worked together through the bureaucracy and the repairs. They had disagreements, but no real fights.

They agree that watching television, or sitting still for any reason, is boring. They both seize any excuse to get on his boat, sit by a campfire, spend a day in the woods, anything outdoors really.

• • •

The day of the accident, Simmons, in camouflage pants, tromped alongside Egan. When she came across wild turkeys, she grabbed the cellphone and shot video, not knowing how precious the battery would later become.

They had passed a sour orange tree early in the day and she regretted not stopping to pick a few. She knew a great recipe for a sour orange marinade.

By the end of the day, she sat in a hunting blind next to Egan, chatting quietly and watching the sun work close to the horizon.

A hog came into the clearing. Egan took a shot, then scrambled after it as it darted into the brush.

Simmons noticed another sour orange tree across the field. Figuring Egan had killed a hog, she decided she would make that marinade after all. She circled the tree, dotting the grass with fresh fruit.

A last few were just out of reach. So she jumped up on a log.

She balanced on her toes. She wobbled a bit as she stretched. Her torso disappeared into the tree.

Just as she pulled on a big, ripe orange, something swept her legs from under her and sent her tumbling to the ground.

"It's amazing how quick life can become a whole new ball game," Simmons says.

• • •

The media attention was a constant source of irritation. Simmons' mother called a local TV station to complain about Leno's insensitivity, but the attention continued for days.

"They really wouldn't leave it alone until that guy ate a man's face in Miami. Then it just disappeared," Egan said.

People assumed that their relationship couldn't survive such a colossal mistake.

Yet it did.

"I don't think you can go through something like this and not get closer, if you really love somebody," Simmons says. "We don't have any issues between us."

Simmons never blamed Egan for the accident. "Not even for one second."

"Take responsibility for your part of what happened," she says. "Whatever it is, don't blame the other person because a lot of things go into an accident or problem. It's not just one factor."

Egan couldn't sleep the week after the accident. Eventually he sought counseling for post-traumatic stress.

"Every time I see you limp … ," Egan begins to tell her, and tears up. "It's with me all the time."

"It's okay, honey. At least I'm here to be seen," she says, taking his hand.

In the past year, Simmons has moved from bed, to scooter, to cane, to no cane at all. She is on long-term disability from her job, but she refuses to apply for Social Security benefits. She cannot stay on her feet long enough to return to work as a nurse, so she is working toward a degree to become a nursing teacher.

"By the time they process the Social Security paperwork, I'll be back to work as a teacher," she says with a hint of pride.

One day soon, probably in June, Simmons will limp over to a chair, gently sit down to take the weight off the rod in her leg and claim her prize for last year's long, hard fight in the woods. Someone will place a granddaughter, her first grandchild, in her arms.

"At least I'm still alive," Simmons says. "I still have both legs and I've got a really good story to tell her some day."

Times researchers Natalie Watson and Caryn Baird contributed to this report. John Pendygraft can be reached at jpendygraft@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8247.

Together, couple survives hunting accident — and the laughs at their expense 05/03/13 [Last modified: Sunday, May 5, 2013 11:35pm]
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