SARATOGA SPRINGS, Utah — A Saratoga Springs family is sharing a message of safety with the community and a warning of the potential consequences, after their son was LifeFlighted to Primary Children's Hospital following a neighborhood ATV accident that left him with a brain bleed.
It can be common to see ATVs, UTVs and dirt bikes zipping around Utah neighborhoods, as parents let kids putz around close to home.
Joel Huebner sees it all the time around his house near Utah Lake, as ATVs go up and down the streets.
When a group of teens stopped by to pick up Huebner's son Rhett on a utility ATV a couple of weeks ago, it gave him pause, but Huebner thought it'd be okay for the kids to ride around the neighborhood.
He said he asked his 15-year old son what kind of ATV it was, and Rhett said it was a rancher type and that he'd been on it before. Huebner wasn't aware his son had ridden this ATV before and told him to be careful.
"I figured, they'd just ride around neighborhood a little bit," Huebner recounted. "And then they were going to go over and hang out with some friends and play some games."
But less than 10 minutes later, Huebner described how one of Rhett's friends came bursting through the door to say Rhett was hurt. Then Huebner began to hear ambulance sirens. He rushed down the street to a chaotic scene of teenagers scattered on the road and driveway. They'd all been thrown from the ATV and slid across the pavement.
At least two of them had been knocked completely unconscious, Huebner said. He found Rhett tossed into the bushes of someone's front yard. Not far from Rhett, the ATV had clearly crashed and the roof came off.
"They came down the street, and they kind of got too close to the curb, and they started to wobble a bit, and they hit the curb, which caused them to do a 180 and then tip over, and then everyone was thrown out," Huebner explained.
The six teens in the double-benched ATV were not wearing seatbelts or helmets.
Rhett and his friends were covered in severe road rash. Some experienced concussions and suffered from broken bones. Huebner said his son's shoes had been completely knocked off his feet and the socks were shredded from sliding across the road.
But the biggest issue was how hard Rhett hit his head. He was the worst off out of all his friends.
"The doctor said, 'If we don't get him up to Primary Children's Hospital, this could be fatal,'" Huebner remembered. "That's when it really hit home that, this is really scary."
Rhett had a brain bleed and needed surgery. He was Life Flighted to Primary Children's, where Huebner said doctors cut a cookie-sized hole into Rhett's skull to relieve the bleeding.
"We were really nervous, because we didn't know if there was going to be any permanent damage," Huebner explained.
Rhett was hospitalized for several days.
"I just remember waking up in the hospital," Rhett remembered. That was after the surgery, and after receiving 64 stitches. Rhett said his mom had to tell him what happened. Rhett didn't remember the crash, or much after that.
"The left side of my head is kind of numb, I can't feel it here," Rhett said, putting his hand on the area where surgeons cut into his head. His scar goes from the top of his head, and curves around down the back and then over by his ear.
Thankfully, Huebner said a CT scan showed no permanent damage to Rhett. A physical therapist worked with Rhett on how to walk, because the road rash was so severe on his feet.
Two weeks later, Rhett is now at home and recovering with a long road ahead.
Rhett hasn't started school yet but plans to go Wednesday this week. He missed the first two weeks of school. Playing his favorite sport this fall is on hold for the next three to six months.
"I think about soccer mostly, what I'm going to do to get back to work and move forward from this," Rhett said.
The Huebner's are grateful for the outpouring of support they've received, which have included prayers, visits, signs, cards, and balloons.
They are thankful that in time, Rhett will make a full recovery and be okay.
But they don't want anyone else to go through this, or worse.
Huebner is now sharing a message for other parents who might think it's okay for kids take a simple spin around the neighborhood.
"People need to be aware of what their kids are doing out there on these vehicles and understand that things can happen so fast and change," he said. Huebner later added: "Parents, just be vigilant and make sure that they're riding them the right way and using safety precautions."