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Puna man ‘just wanted to live’ after nearly losing leg to lava bomb

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    Darryl Clinton of Kapoho, hospitalized in Hilo, described Tuesday how a basketball-size lava bomb “snapped my leg in half toward my ankle, and my foot and my leg were hinged.”

The basketball-size lava bomb that split open 57-year-old Darryl Clinton’s left ankle fired horizontally rather than shooting straight up from “one mean, nasty vent” as he stood on a lanai talking on the phone, he said.

“It snapped my leg in half toward my ankle, and my foot and my leg were hinged,” the Kapoho man told reporters in an interview Tuesday from his hospital bed at Hilo Medical Center. “It knocked me down onto a couch, which caught on fire from the flaming rock. I jumped onto the floor, trying to hold my leg together.”

Clinton was the first person with reported injuries during the past three weeks of Kilauea’s activity in Lower Puna, with 23 fissures spewing fumes and rivers and fountains of lava.

Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno said Clinton was “lava-bombed” by spatter as he sat on a porch off Highway 132 below Lanipuna Garden subdivision.

Clinton said vents from Fissure 17 were “launching lava bombs,” with several hitting the roof and getting lodged between the metal roofing and ceiling and igniting. He and others kept dousing the flames and remained at the site to prevent the house from burning.

“Mostly it was a big event, front-row seats, to view lava for several people, who all helped out,” he said.

Clinton, a semiretired house builder who has lived in Puna for 12 years, said residents are accustomed to lava activity and know that an audible explosion precedes the projectiles.

The lava bombs typically fly high, are usually heavy and get lighter as they fizzle out, he said. The wind might catch them like a golf ball and drop them to the ground.

Keeping an eye on the bombs is “like catching a football or baseball on the run,” he said — only “you don’t catch it.”

But Clinton was caught off guard by the odd horizontal shot at a time when the lava bombs had waned and weren’t hitting the house, but going in other directions.

“It was the most forceful impact I’ve ever had in my body in my life,” the surfer said. “I’ve been hit by big waves and various things that was just incredibly powerful and hot. … It was super painful. … My leg was in half. My bone was sticking out. Blood was squirting out.”

His ex-wife got a sheet and pulled it tight, he said, lifting his leg and gesturing with his hands. She then used an old, wet sheet her dog had been sleeping on, and wrapped it around.

She “grabbed me by my right leg, drug me down five flights of stairs to the ground, got her truck, called 911 and drove us toward the emergency vehicles,” he said. All the while, “I held my shoe and my ankle together with my leg,” he said.

He was met by firefighters and rushed by ambulance to Hilo Medical Center. There they cleaned lava rock out of the wound, placed a flap over the void where he lost a lot of tissue, inserting a titanium rod and screws in his leg.

He praised the doctors who put his leg back together, allowing him to wiggle his toes.

“I just wanted to live,” Clinton said. “I didn’t care if they cut my leg off down there or not. I just can’t believe it’s there.”

Despite the severe injury and Civil Defense warnings to evacuate, Clinton has no plans to move, saying: “There’s really no reason to go. To me, things happen every day to people just in an instant.

“I think that area will be safe for quite some time now, so we’re going to stay.”

His advice to others: “If you’re leery of going surfing in certain conditions, or anything else, don’t tempt fate. Just be safe. But if you feel comfortable and you’re aware and you’re capable, by all means. It’s fun. Thrill of a lifetime.”

The story is based on a video interview provided to the Star-Advertiser by Daryl W. Lee.

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