Boater Beware: A cautionary tale of survival

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COLBERT COUNTY, Ala. - During this summer vacation time many of you will be in and around the water, So it's typical for us to bring you boating safety stories.

But are you really heeding those warnings? This is one we hope will make you  sit up and pay attention.

Three months ago, an elementary school principal and his wife's lives changed forever because of a boating accident. The couple has a powerful message for water lovers of all ages, and experience levels -- "boater, beware."

The story starts in late March on what was expected to be a perfect day on the lake. On those kinds of days, an absolute nightmare is the last thing on your mind.

On that day, Webster Elementary Principal Jason Simmons and his wife, Anna, decided to go fishing on Wilson Lake.

"I finally convinced Anna to come along and we had a wonderful day," Jason recalls. "It was after church, the Sunday after spring break."

Trolling along about 55 miles per hour heading back to their family's home, Jason says his hands left the wheel for a split second to catch his sunglasses from flying off his head.

That's all it took. No partying, no horseplay, just a second.

Jason tells it this way, "25 years of boating -- and it was just a freak accident and the boat turned hard to the right and threw us both out of the water. The boat turned around, I did not have my kill switch on, so the boat turned right back around and ran over us both. And it cut my leg halfway off."

After the boat's propeller sliced both boaters the vessel inexplicably stopped; even Muscle Shoals Marine Police don't know how.

"So I thought I would either bleed to death or go into shock and drown," Jason said.

With Anna's arm severely cut and Jason's entire backside literally hanging, both fully conscious, the pair were able to climb aboard and call ashore to say "we need help, and it's serious."

Jason believed himself to be on death's door. He told us, "I knew how bad it was and I did not think I was going to make it out of that water. I actually told Anna, 'I don't think I'm going to make it.'"

The Simmons shared these pictures with WHNT News 19.  They are extremely graphic and we have taken steps to censor some of Jason's extreme injuries, but the pixellation does not hide everything. The Simmons wanted to express just how bad boating accidents can be.

Miraculously, Jason and Anna were able to muster strength and draw from adrenaline to pull themselves up onto the boat. Jason was then able to steer the fishing boat back to his father-in-law's dock to wait for an emergency helicopter to arrive. Emergency responders arrived within 5 minutes but Jason's fight for his life was far from over.

"You're seeing basically in the buttock area a very large, complex, very deep injuries to the tissues there," said Dr. Rony Najjar, head of Huntsville Hospital Emergency Trauma Surgery.

Jason's life was in the hands of doctors Stephan Moran, Najjar and others with the trauma team at Huntsville Hospital, who worked for hours to mend the laceration. Luckily, the water temperature at about 54 degrees that day helped constrict Jason's blood vessels and prevent massive blood loss commonly associated with the type of injury he sustained.

"In this situation here, you are at a critical level. This is not a simple just 'I fell and twisted my wrist or broke my wrist.' This is a deep gash, if you will; deep trauma to the body," Dr. Najjar explains.

The trauma team certainly did something right. Just three months later, Anna Simmons tells us, "he's walking around fine. And I get stopped daily, people are, you know, 'I'm still praying for Jason, hope he's okay,' and I'm like, 'he's great.' I mean, he's truly a miracle."

"On the water, even when you do everything right, boats and propellers don't discriminate. People do lose limbs and I was lucky," Jason said.

Dr. Najjar's latest update is great, too. He said, "You know, now he's jogging, he's running. It is miraculous that he survived that. It was meant to be."

The Simmons, parents to 4 children have learned sometimes the biggest lessons come from the most dire circumstances.

If Jason had secured the kill switch, "The boat would not have run over us and we'd have come back here with a different story to tell. That's why I'm here today because I don't want this to happen to other folks. I was one, I never wore the kill switch and now I'll never go without wearing it again because I see the effects of it."

Left with scars as their silent testimony, both Anna and Jason now make it their mission to encourage everyone around them, and now you, about the importance of that engine kill switch.

Anna joked, "All our friends call it the 'Simmons' switch' now."

As far as WHNT News 19 is concerned, if this message could prevent just one family from reliving the Simmons' ordeal, well -- that would be getting results in our book.

But, have we gotten your attention yet?