Fall­ing from Stone Moun­tain

Al­covy grad­u­ate in­jured af­ter slid­ing off gran­ite sur­face

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - BRYAN FAZIO bfazio@cov­news.com

I woke up and then screamed in pain.

Sean Gar­ber’s hands started to slip from a gran­ite over­hang­ing about 100 feet off the ground in Stone Moun­tain Park as the son of his youth pas­tor screamed out ,“No! Sean!” and reached his arm out as fear spread across his face.

Gar­ber, a re­cent Al­covy High grad­u­ate who was hik­ing Stone Moun­tain with three oth­ers around noon on Tues­day, was free-fall­ing. He went from fac­ing the moun­tain to twist­ing his body around in or­der to see the rapidly ap­proach­ing ground and the area where his friend had fallen just a sec­ond ear­lier.

Gar­ber said he was flail­ing his arms be­fore he hit the ground, only see­ing his feet be­fore pass­ing out.

The next thing Gar­ber knew he was wak­ing up in a dry, rocky area about 5 feet from where he saw his hik­ing com­pan­ion, Ja­son Landress, who lay close to a lake, un­con­scious.

“I woke up and then screamed in pain, and I told (my youth pas­tor) to call the am­bu­lance.” Gar­ber said. “I checked my body to see if I was all right and no­ticed blood pour­ing down my face. My an­kle was swollen, my arm hurt; I had a bunch of scrapes, and there was blood all over my shirt.”

Once he was able, Gar­ber, 17, limped over to Landress, 18, to make sure he had awak­ened.

“I think if he would have gone to sleep, he might have gone into a coma,” Gar­ber said.

Shortly af­ter that, med­i­cal per­son­nel were led to Landress and Gar­ber, and tele­vi­sion crews de­scended to Stone Moun­tain Park, broad­cast­ing live im­ages of the res­cue and post­ing up­dates on so­cial me­dia. Gar­ber was taken by am­bu­lance to Gwin­nett Med­i­cal Cen­ter, where his right arm was placed in a splint, his an­kle was x-rayed, and his lac­er­a­tions, in­clud­ing a large gash above his right eye, were cleaned up.

Gar­ber was re­leased from the hos­pi­tal about seven hours af­ter his day started, a day on which he was just try­ing to take ad­van­tage of some of the rare sunny weather the area has seen in re­cent weeks.

The youth pas­tor of his Mon­roe County church was tak­ing his 12-year old son hik- ing in Stone Moun­tain and asked if Gar­ber and Landress wanted to come along. Gar­ber had never been hik­ing around Stone Moun­tain and wanted to ex­plore the area, tak­ing a break from his job work­ing in plumb­ing with his pas­tor.

The hike started off leisurely, with the group talk­ing, ad­mir­ing the scenery and tak­ing pho­to­graphs of the area. While walk­ing, the four­some in­ad­ver­tently went into the re­stricted area with­out see­ing any signs, ac­cord­ing to Gar­ber.

Ris­ing in el­e­va­tion, the path the group was walk­ing on then turned steep – about a 20-de­gree an­gle, ac­cord­ing to Gar­ber – and it be­came too dif­fi­cult for them to walk up­right. Gar­ber de­cided to crawl across on his knees, his pas­tor was on all fours, and Landress was try­ing to crab-walk (fac­ing up­ward with his back par­al­lel to the ground, us­ing his hands and feet to move) across the stone of the moun­tain. Landress reached a wet area and be­gan to slide down­ward. Gar­ber rushed to try to grab his friend.

“I caught up right when he fell off,” Gar­ber said. “I tried to stop my­self as fast as I could, and turned on my stom­ach and tried to find the dri­est place to grab, but my hands were too wet and I fell off.”

Ac­cord­ing to an As­so­ci­ated Press re­port, the fall was the first in­ci­dent on the back side of Stone Moun­tain Park in 15 years.

“They were very lucky to not be killed,” said Stone Moun­tain Park po­lice spokesman John Bankhead to the AP.

As Landress was hav­ing surgery at At­lanta Med­i­cal Cen­ter Thurs­day, park of­fi­cials told the AP they are con­sid­er­ing ex­tra safety fea­tures near the moun­tain’s gran­ite back side, such as painted lines. The area isn’t fenced off, but has signs, that Bankhead told the AP are rou­tinely stolen.

Gar­ber said there were no signs in the area he was ex­plor­ing Tues­day, lead­ing to that jour­ney over the slip­pery gran­ite.

While Gar­ber’s wounds were be­ing tended to, his Face­book page and cell phone in­box were quickly fill­ing up with mes­sages from friends who had seen him on TV and were con­cerned about his well-be­ing. His fa­ther, Bill, work­ing at Ram­sey’s Pro­duce, re­ceived a call about the fall and came to his side, while Sean’s mother, Michelle, was driv­ing home from Jack­sonville. Michelle found out first when her pas­tor called to tell her that her son was in the hos­pi­tal. With four of her five sons in the car with her, Michelle said, “No, my boys are fine; you must have heard some­thing wrong.”

Still driv­ing from Florida she called Bill, who said Sean slipped and fell and was OK.

“His main con­cern was my safety and the kids’,” Michelle said.

How­ever, Michelle de­cided to call Sean and when Bill an­swered in­stead, she knew some­thing was wrong.

“I knew some­thing was wrong when my son couldn’t pick up the phone,” she said. “I have five boys, and I’ve been in the hos­pi­tal with them so many times that I knew some­thing was wrong.”

She con­tin­ued to drive home as Sean re­cov­ered, and he was re­leased from the hos­pi­tal around 7 p.m.

The fall had se­verely in­jured the right side of his body, but he said it won’t de­ter him from re­turn­ing to Stone Moun­tain.

He ap­peared to be on the way to full health just af­ter leav­ing the hos­pi­tal, when he sat­is­fied one of his first post-fall needs – din­ner; or­der­ing a No. 7 com­bi­na­tion of que­sadil­las.

Dar­rell Everidge /The Cov­ing­ton News

New­ton County res­i­dent Sean Gar­ber, mid­dle, poses with Ja­son Landress, left, and his youth pas­tor’s son while climb­ing Stone Moun­tain Tues­day, prior to Gar­ber and Landress fall­ing.

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