First victim of tornado speaks out

Photo by Roger Meggers Aerial view of destroyed Wilcox RV home.
Photo by Roger Meggers
Aerial view of destroyed Wilcox RV home.

   Miraculously there were no deaths reported after an F-3 tornado struck Baker June 11, and as details unfold, many amazing stories are surfacing from survivors who rode out “the eye of the storm”.

By Sherry Vogel

   About 6:50 p.m., Jim Wilcox was just getting relaxed in front of his TV with his faithful dog Sheeba at his side when he noticed, “the windy afternoon suddenly got a lot windier and things started shaking … then everything became eerily still”.

   The next thing he remembers he was waking up laying on a graveled parking lot 20 feet away from where his RV had stood in the John Michael Bertsch RV Park, approximately three miles south of Baker. “My first concern was my dog. I began to call out her name, and I was so glad when she came running up from out of a field,” Wilcox said. “I looked down at my bare legs, which were covered in blood, and I knew I needed to get to the hospital. When I looked toward my pickup, I realized my home had been tossed up in the air and had landed on top of it. Fortunately, another vehicle was available so I headed down the road toward Baker. As I approached town, a sheriff’s vehicle was blocking the road so I got out and started walking toward him. He found me and drove me to the hospital.”

   Jim, a 59 year old supervisor for Oftedal Construction, Inc. who is working south of Baker on the Highway 7 construction project, remembers being marked on his arm with a #1 as he entered the hospital.

   The storm lifted his Montana Big Sky 5th wheel RV home with four slides off the ground, dropping it about 50 feet away on top of his company truck, crushing it.

   It is a true miracle that Jim survived at all. One has to marvel that he had no broken bones. He was bruised, sore and sustained cuts and lacerations, but is alive and able to relate a tale that few live to tell.

   Meanwhile, Gerald Demontigny, employee of Oftedal Construction, and his wife Dorothy, who were also camped at a nearby location at the same park, were also settling in for the night. Dorothy shook her head as she relived the horrifying night of June 11. She cupped her head in her hands as she told of barely escaping with their lives when the raging tornado ripped apart their 5th wheel RV home as they huddled down inside. Gerald was watching TV as he relaxed in the living room. Dorothy was walking through the kitchen when all of a sudden their RV began to shake violently. Dorothy yelled at Gerald to come up in the bedroom as she gathered their pet dogs into the room. Gerald stood up only to be knocked to the floor. A terrible loud noise pierced the air as Gerald looked up to see half of the RV roof being torn from the structure.The entire home was thrown back four feet and shifted just as far to the side. Personal items, food and furniture flew through the air. They along with their five Bischion Frisee dogs were stunned, but nonetheless for wear. They gathered themselves up and found the opening where the door had been located to stumble out into the evening.

   “The first thought on my mind,” said Dorothy, “was whether our employer and friend Jim had made it. We were blessed to later discover he and his dog both had survived.” Dorothy trembled as she came to the realization, “It lasted only a few seconds yet did so much damage. We are all so blessed to be alive.”