Steven Keith was on vacation until Monday, touring four national parks with his brother, Glen, and niece Hazel. Keith said when he and his family came around a curve on the St. Mary Falls Trail, he saw two of the three victims lying on the trail just moments after hearing a loud thunder clap and seeing lightning strike nearby.
As a result of his quick actions and those of another woman, all three victims are alive today.
“We turned the corner … I saw the two lying there, and the first thing in my head was, ‘the lightning that just struck killed these two people,’ and I was looking at two dead people,” Keith said.
Keith is a science and social studies teacher with the Cherokee County School District and works at ACE Academy. He was certified in CPR a few years ago and said that knowledge is what saved the three victims’ lives.
Another hiker, known only as Beth, had come from the other direction after Travis Heitman and Kinsey Leishman, both 23 years old, were struck.
“Kinsey, the woman, was closest to me, and Travis was closest to Beth on the other side,” Keith said. “They were not moving, they were unconscious. From our viewpoint I saw her face quite clearly, it was all blue from the nose down. Her skin was pale and waxy looking and her eyes were slightly opened, just lying there with her arms to the side and her legs straight out.”
Keith said the experience felt surreal, as he rushed to start CPR on Leishman.
“It was scary, and I could see the panic in Beth’s eyes,” Keith said. “I can only imagine what was going through her head… I think she was quite relieved that we came around the other side and then we got into action.”
Keith said he had been CPR-certified three times in the last four years, but he never expected to use his training.
“The first thing you’re supposed to do is see if there’s any danger around you, and call out for help,” Keith said.
“We were in the middle of the trail and I yelled for Glen to go get help.”
After about four cycles of doing two breaths and 30 compressions, Keith said the woman started breathing again.
He said “it was just amazing” when Leishman started breathing, but soon after, Beth pointed out the 11-year-old boy named Cadence who was still on the side of the trail. Keith hadn’t seen the young boy until that point.
“As soon as I finished with (Leishman), I went straight to Cadence. Soon after I started on Cadence, Beth revived Travis,” Keith said. “There was no pulse, (the boy) was blue in the face.”
Keith said he did four CPR cycles, but the boy didn’t start breathing.
“I started getting really worried at that point,” Keith said. “I slapped him a couple times, yelling at him, ‘wake up, wake up.’”
After about six cycles of CPR, Keith said the boy started breathing.
Keith said all three of the victims are back home now. He said they were experiencing pain, but are getting better.
“CPR is what saved these peoples’ lives… we were at the right place at the right time,” Keith said. “Fortunately I knew how to do it, and Beth was able to do it.”
After speaking with Leishman’s father, Keith said the victim’s parents signed up for a CPR class. Keith urged everyone to learn CPR.
“In this case, the most traumatic or unusual thing that could possibly happen, happened,” Keith said. “If it wasn’t me, it would’ve been someone else.”
Medics arrived after the three had been resuscitated, and Keith said the two adults were taken by ambulance to the hospital, and the young boy was air-lifted out.
Keith said he hasn’t spoken with the other hiker, Beth, since the event, but said he heard from Leishman’s father.
“Hopefully she’ll Google, and come across an article and reach out,” Keith said. “That’s basically what I did with (the victims)… I wanted to know how they were progressing, if they were going to be OK.”