A Richland man burned in a boat explosion last month near the Richland Yacht Club described the incident as "horrific" but said he doesn't know what caused it.
Mark Riggs, 41, and Donna Smith, 43, were setting out on an evening sail May 14 when Riggs' 17-foot Crestliner, the Norma Jeane, burst into flames after they fueled up.
Everything happened so fast, Riggs said. He said he yelled for Smith and thought he pulled her off the boat with him, but he apparently fell into the water and went under and she was still on the boat.
Riggs said he remembers yelling at Smith from the water until she jumped in.
"I did not leave her. I screamed at her, like I hated her, to get her off the boat," he told the Herald. "When it happens that fast, in a half a second and you have to make a decision, I did what I could. I was in the fight or flight, but I never left. I was in the water. I was right there. I almost drowned."
Smith apparently was able to swim to the dock and climb up the ladder onto land. Riggs said he struggled in the water but was able to follow behind her.
Smith, who suffered second- and third-degree burns over her entire body, was helped by bystanders until emergency crews arrived and took her to Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland.
She was then flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where she remains in serious condition in the intensive care unit.
Riggs said he was more concerned about Smith than himself and refused to go in the second ambulance. He said medics eventually let him sit in the front seat of Smith's ambulance so he could stay with her.
"This is the worst thing that's ever happened to me in my life. That was the most horrific thing I've ever been through, and I'm walking and that's not fair," he said. "I would trade places with her in a minute."
Riggs was released from Kadlec that night. Three days later, when his sister checked on him, his legs and arms were swollen and he had huge burn blisters, he said.
They went to Kadlec, and emergency room doctors said he needed to go to Harborview. Riggs spent about 2 1/2 weeks in Seattle before being released June 14, a hospital spokeswoman said. He has some additional outpatient treatment to do through Harborview for the third-degree burns he suffered on his arms and legs.
"Everybody wants to know what happened -- that second. Nobody knows. I was there, and I don't know. I was there. It was horrible," Riggs said. "It's not a story. It's life, and it hurts. It's not what I expected to happen when you're just trying to go out and have fun."
Richland fire investigators say the incident appears to be accidental and possibly was caused by a fuel leak.
Smith has undergone multiple surgeries at Harborview and is slowly recovering.
A comedy fundraiser to benefit Smith is planned for next weekend at Jokers Comedy Club, 624 Wellsian Way, Richland.
The show, featuring comedian Rick D'elia, is at 6:30 p.m. June 30. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased online at www.jokersrichland.com.