CHARGING FORWARD: Electrocution survivor shares freak hiking accident story

It was hunting season again. Eduardo Garcia hiked up Beattie Gulch, a prime hunting area just northwest of Gardiner. He knew the landscape of Park County intimately. 

Approximately three miles into his excursion on Oct. 9, 2011, he came across an odd-looking dark mass on the ground. It was a dead bear cub. 

Garcia would later say it was “just out of curiosity” when he poked the carcass with his hunting knife. No one could have foreseen what would happen in the seconds that followed that seemingly innocuous action.

He would never use his left hand again.  

The Emigrant man said he remembered seeing his hand holding the knife and feeling heat through it. 

“Then it was lights out,” Garcia recalled. 

When he came to, he was looking up at the sky. He didn’t know how he ended up on his back. 

But he knew he had to find help. 

“I remember the sound of gravel under my feet, the sound of a meadowlark,” he said. 

It wasn’t until part way back on his trek to the nearest sign of civilization that he realized he’d been shocked by an electric current. He didn’t put two and two together until he looked down at his left arm. 

“My hand was a black, charred mess,” he said. 

Garcia would later learn the bear carcass rested on top of a hot power line on the ground, coursing with 2,400 volts of electricity. His metal hunting knife was a perfect conductor. 

Walking was a generous term for what Garcia was doing at that point. He could only shuffle through the sagebrush. Any misstep could be his last in his debilitated state.

He felt no pain — at least not yet. That would come four days later, once the shock wore off.  

When first responders arrived for Garcia, their consensus was he almost certainly wouldn’t make it. 

The shock had burned much of Garcia’s torso, tearing nine exit wounds throughout his body, with two particularly nasty ones on his scalp. How could such a burned mass of a body possibly house a soul for much longer? 

Paramedics said Garcia was talking but he wasn’t making any sense. 

Joel Byrd, an EMT serving the Gardiner area, told Garcia, “We found bits and pieces of you — burnt skin” all around the bear. 

A $42,000 medical flight later, Eduardo found himself in Salt Lake City for the advanced care he would need if he were to survive. Upon his arrival, in good- spirits considering, he asked an EMT, “How am I going to get home tonight?”  

And as if his travails weren’t enough, during his time in the hospital Garcia learned he had Stage 2 testicular cancer. 

He’d spend the next 48 days in the burn ICU recovering from the accident and a year battling cancer, undergoing a total of 21 surgeries. 

The trek to recovery looked a lot longer than the shuffle off the mountain.

 RECOVERY

Four and half years later, and five miles away from the site of the accident, Garcia shared his myriad of rich life experiences, both the good and the bad — and especially how to overcome the negative ones — to a rapt audience of Gardiner middle and high school students April 5 in the school gymnasium.  

The accident had taken much of his left forearm, and he now uses a prosthetic fitted with a hook. 

Garcia told the students about his 11 years as a cook on private yachts that took guests to every corner of the world. He relayed his childhood and teenage years growing up in Park County. He started out in the working world flipping burgers at Chico when he was 15. Food would become a central passion to his life. 

Never one to sit still, his insatiable curiosity and overall rebelliousness proved disruptive in a classroom setting. Garcia said he was “kicked out of every school in the county,” including the Gardiner School — twice. 

“I had definitely had my wires crossed at a young age,” he said. “Cooking was a way to stop stealing money from my mother.”

The accident wasn’t Garcia’s first missed date with death. He came within inches of being smeared by a semitrailer while bicycling on the streets of Seattle; he evaded Davey Jones’ Locker after falling overboard after dark in the middle of the Atlantic; and survived a poorly-timed hike that left him pell-melling off the slopes of an erupting volcano in Italy. 

Garcia is one of two things: either exceptionally unlucky or exceptionally lucky — depending on one’s bent on the oft-hashed “glass half full or half empty” query.  

His can-do attitude and “carpe diem” gusto exuded as he spoke in front of the projector, handling the mic with his prosthetic with ease. His speeches are organic and totally unscripted.

He asked students to close their eyes and find their pulses. All sat in silence, listening to their heartbeats for 30 seconds. 

“That’s the definition of life,” Garcia said. “That’s a miracle.”  

He encouraged students to lean on one another, friends and family when life gets rough.

He and his twin brother, Eugenio, who accompanied Garcia to the presentation, have a special slogan, the acronym of which comes out “like a Wookie sound,” said Garcia — WAW, which stands for “Wake up and Win.”  

During the question-and-answer session, one curious student wanted to know how he opened and closed the hooked pincers at the end of his prosthesis. Garcia asked who else wanted to know. Every arm shot up in the bleachers. He explained it was done with an elastic cord anchored to a harness on his other shoulder. Shifting that shoulder shortens and lengthens the cord, opening and closing the hook, allowing him to clasp a range of items. 

Seventh-grader Chase Cunningham said Garcia’s presentation inspired her to travel the world, adding, “I’m not going to stay here forever.”  

Garcia continues to cultivate his passion for food. He is the co-founder and lead chef at Bozeman’s Montana Mex, where he creates all-natural Mexican food products. After his accident, someone with an enterprising sense of humor once gave him an apron with the phrase, “Don’t Poke the Bear.” 

Garcia’s story will be reaching an ever-increasing audience with a documentary called, “Charged: The Eduardo Garcia Story.” Garcia said the film is expected to premiere early next year. The trailer can be seen at www.ChargedFilm.com

“Take your lives and go kick some ass,” he said to the assembled Gardiner students. “Be the author of your own story.”  

Story and photos by Hunter D’Antuono / Yellowstone Newspapers

CUTLINE: Eduardo Garcia gives a presentation to Gardiner School students about his life experiences and how to maintain personal resiliency. Garcia was nearly killed after being shocked with 2,400 volts when he touched a bear carcass covering power lines four years ago just outside of Gardiner. 

 

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