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A long, dangerous road home

Man en route to Costa Mesa picks up a couple of hitchhikers and finds himself in grave danger.

December 13, 2011|By Lauren Williams
  • Ed Thornell, 54, who was shot in Wyoming in August, talks about the five bullets that ripped through his body.
Ed Thornell, 54, who was shot in Wyoming in August, talks… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

When Ed Thornell met a pair of fellow travelers in Nebraska, they seemed like decent people.

Their promise to pay for gas and small expenses overrode any suspicions the cash-strapped driver had during his trip back to Orange County after visiting his brother in Kentucky.

Their road trip started out cordial enough, but after a few days, Roy Scott Fritts and Jessica Lorraine Fritts exhibited strange behavior that made Thornell feel uneasy.

His first thought was that he should leave them on the side of the road, but his conscience got the best of him. Thornell decided he just couldn't just leave the two hitchhikers stranded in the remote West.

To this day, he wishes he had listened to his gut.

On Aug. 14 — four days after Frittses joined Thornell — the group was packing up camp in Wyoming, and Thornell said Roy wanted to show him a spectacular view.

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The view turned out to be an ordinary gully, but as Thornell turned around he said he saw a .45-caliber pistol before Roy told him, "Sorry, Ed. I need your van."

Thornell said Roy shot him in the side, abdomen, elbow and neck, then left him to die.

*

'Go find that road'

Thornell told his maker that he was coming.

"I'm on my way, God. I hope you have a bed for me," he prayed.

But Thornell said he believed God had other plans for him.

"Get up off your butt and go find that road," a voice inside him said.

Thornell tried to walk, but a bullet had passed through the sciatic nerve of his left leg, temporarily rendering it useless.

"I don't know why they chose that spot and that location," he recalled. "I guess they thought that was where no one would find me."

He crawled a quarter mile before finally finding help on a small road.

A caravan carrying two families found Thornell in a fetal position. They asked him questions about his alleged attackers, in part to keep him awake, and covered him in a blanket to reduce the shock.

When paramedics arrived, they asked Thornell where he was from. He gave them the address of his sister, Anita Hallock, 53, who lives in Costa Mesa.

After being loaded into the ambulance, the next thing he remembers is Hallock by his bedside.

"I said, 'Anita, how did you get here so fast?'" Thornell recalled. "She said, 'So fast? You've been under two weeks.'"

Thornell described her as instrumental to his recovery.

Thornell looked like a science experiment, with tubes coming out of every bullet wound. He was given a tracheotomy — a scar that today is a visible reminder of the attack.

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