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Injured park users hard for rescuers to find on illegal trails


The clock started ticking when a mountain biker riding on an illegal trail in Annadel State Park hit a root and crashed, breaking his neck.

As word of the accident crackled over emergency radios, Bennett Valley firefighters and a state park ranger jumped into pickups packed with rescue gear.

"Time was of the essence," Bennett Valley Fire Lt. Travis Browne recalled. "We just needed to get paramedics to that patient."

But as the light began to fade, they did not know where to go.

Tony Lamperti, 47, of Sebastopol and his group of mountain bikers had been riding on an unmapped trail near Bennett Peak. Browne eventually found Lamperti in an area not well known to firefighters, inaccessible by helicopter and barred to park visitors.

"It was one of those worst-case scenario medicals where we're all trying like mad to get there," State Park Supervising Ranger Neill Fogarty said.

The March 17 effort to find and retrieve the injured man brings to focus an enduring problem for emergency responders and environmental stewards: people who head into prohibited and fragile areas of the park.

Exploring off-trail can not only damage park habitat, it can result in long delays for emergency aid when accidents occur, said Bert Whitaker, Sonoma County Regional Parks operations director.

"That incident really did showcase safety issues with illegal trails and people using them," said Whitaker, whose agency is working with state parks to manage Annadel. "They are not on a park map. There are not (trail) names recognizable to responders out there."

Lamperti praised all those who helped get him out of the park, although he declined to discuss why his group went off official trails or what he thinks of the matter.

"Every single guy that was on that rescue is a hero," Lamperti said.

Emergency paramedics say there's a time window — a "golden hour" — from the moment of injury to when they must get that person to a hospital. Research has shown it's key to a person's best chance at recovery.

Browne said the first call to help Lamperti came in at 6:46 p.m.

With clues from members of Lamperti's group, dispatchers sent responders heading to three different locations before Browne ran into a cyclist who had gone for help.

"He just couldn't tell me where (Lamperti) was but looking at a map, he had a general idea," Browne said.

Browne grabbed a few medical supplies and started running up a path, past an "Under Surveillance. Illegal Trail" sign posted at the start of a tributary off the Marsh Trail.

He ran up a narrow oak-covered trail while the rest of his crew followed, carrying about 200 pounds of first aid supplies and rescue gear. Lamperti was sprawled on a flat portion of the path when Browne reached him at 7:32 p.m.

"He knew his neck was broken. He was in a severe amount of pain," Browne said.

He started evaluating Lamperti's vital signs. Once the rest of the crew arrived, they began an examination, established an IV and put Lamperti into a special collar and onto a backboard.

A CHP helicopter crew from Napa landed in a steep meadow about a quarter-mile away.

They started walking to the helicopter at 8:12 p.m.

Four firefighters, two CHP officers and about five cyclists took turns carrying the backboard and bracing those walking on the downslope.

"It was pitch black. We were under a tree canopy," Browne said.

Every 100 yards, they set the board down and rotated positions. The movement was painful for Lamperti and Browne remembered the injured man telling him: "&amp;&lsquo;Do what you have to do and I'll deal with the pain.'<TH>"

"Hiking him out was not comfortable. But it had to be done," Browne said.

The helicopter took off for Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital at 8:33 p.m. — one hour and 47 minutes after firefighters heard the first call, according to Bennett Valley Fire records.

After an assessment at Memorial, Lamperti was flown to a Stanford hospital where he was in intensive care for three days.

Lamperti counts himself lucky. Although he will have to wear a massive neck brace that screws into his skull for about six months, he believes he will get on a bike again.

"We ride bicycles every single day. That is what we do as a family," said Lamperti, who is married and has two sons.

(You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com.)