A young widow mourns a dad and husband who was ‘all about family’
Greg Loftis forgot his tractor keys last Tuesday afternoon, June 9, and was headed back home on Z Highway, near Thornfield, when he came upon three young, bloodied children walking along the asphalt. Two little boys were crying beside their determined big sister, who was leading them away from the car crash they’d been in just down the road.
“My daddy’s dead,” the youngest, 3-year-old Jaxson Hill, told Greg through his tears.
Loftis, not recognizing the children, hurriedly called 911.
It was the third miracle of the day for Loftis and the suddenly torn-apart family he helped. The second miracle was that “Greg forgot his keys and was driving back home,” his wife Sheena said Monday. “The next miracle was that he had a cell phone signal, which you sometimes don’t have in that area.”
In that part of northern Ozark County, Z Highway winds through about 2 miles of government land before passing by the next house, she said. In the heat of that afternoon, she hates to think what might have happened to the kids – especially since the next local residents to come along didn’t pass through there for another 45 minutes.
The first miracle had happened a few minutes earlier, when Jaxon and his siblings – 12-year-old Jaiden and 7-year-old James – had survived a crash in the 1984 Datsun pickup their dad, Boyd Hill, 29, was driving. Boyd had taken his kids swimming in the creek at his brother Brian Hill’s farm, and they were heading home to Isabella when the accident happened.
No one in the vehicle was wearing a seat belt. Jaiden and James were ejected from the pickup. Their little brother Jaxson was wedged in the backseat behind their dad, who always reclined the seat back to fit his 6’6” frame. Boyd, who was partially ejected, apparently died instantly.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol’s online crash report says the accident occurred around 1:49 p.m. that Tuesday when the pickup traveled off the right side of the roadway, overcorrected, returned to the road and overturned.
Boyd’s wife, Amanda, was in Mountain Home, Arkansas, working at her home-healthcare job when her phone rang at 1:54 p.m. Because she was working, she didn’t answer the call. A few minutes later, she listened to Greg Loftis’ message telling her he’d found her kids walking on the road, there was an accident and her daughter, 12-year-old Jaiden, who had given him her mom’s number, wouldn’t let him take them back to the accident site. He said he didn’t know her husband’s condition.
In shock, Amanda called Greg back and asked to speak to Jaiden. “All she could say was that he was dead,” Amanda said. “I told her I was on my way.”
‘Everyone looked at me like I was a terrible person’
By the time Amanda arrived at the Air Evac landing zone about 2 miles from the accident scene, 7-year-old James had already been flown to Cox South Hospital in Springfield. The ambulance crew wanted to take the other two kids to Baxter Regional Medical Center in Mountain Home, but Amanda refused to let her children be separated.
“I signed the papers saying I was going to take them to the hospital myself and was refusing the ambulance. Then I asked where Boyd was,” she said. “They said I needed to get to the hospital. I kept saying I was going to take the kids to the hospital, but I needed to see Boyd. They said, ‘No, you need to stay strong.’”
She drove Jaxson and Jaiden to Springfield alone. Her mother-in-law, Vicki Hill, was in Springfield for an appointment and arrived at the hospital soon after the helicopter landed with James. “But because she wasn’t his mom, they wouldn’t give her any information,” Amanda said.
Filling out paperwork to get Jaiden and Jaxson admitted into the emergency department, Amanda said, “They wanted to know what happened, so I explained what I knew, and everyone looked at me like I was a terrible person because they were not in seatbelts.”
Leaving the other two kids in the ER with their grandmother, Amanda headed to the ICU in search of James. By then her mother, Lisa Graham, had arrived. “I finally got to the ICU, and they said they had no James Hill in the system,” she said.
Amanda became so hysterical, arguing with the hospital staff, that “they actually called security on me,” she said. “But my mom said, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa! Her husband just died, her son is here in the ICU somewhere and her other two children are in the ER.’ So they backed off.”
The hospital staff finally figured out that her son, James Boyd Hill, had been admitted under his father Boyd James Hill’s name.
“They said they weren’t set up for pediatric conditions like his. They thought he might have an air bubble on his lung and maybe a fractured left knee and they needed to life-flight him to St. Louis or Kansas City.”
Due to high winds that made flying unsafe, James eventually was transported to Kansas City’s Children’s Mercy Hospital by ground ambulance, with Amanda and her mother-in-law following in Amanda’s truck. James was treated for a concussion and other injuries; it was determined that his knee was badly injured but not broken. He was discharged the next day, Wednesday, June 10, and will have follow-up online and in-person appointments in the coming weeks.
The other two kids were discharged from Cox ER Tuesday night and went home to Ava with Amanda’s mother.
A home burglarized
Late Wednesday night, Amanda arrived back at the home she and Boyd own in Isabella to learn that, on the night Boyd died, someone had broken out the windows and taken or destroyed several items. “When my dad and brothers went to feed the dogs, they saw what had happened. Since the windows had been broken out, there was no way to lock the house. So my younger brother has stayed at the house ever since that night, and I’ve stayed, trying to get the glass cleaned up.”
Thursday morning, Amanda went to the funeral home in Gainesville to make Boyd’s final arrangements.
This week, she’s trying to figure out how to manage life on her own with three young children to support.
Her husband was totally devoted to her and their children, she said. “He was all about family, all about his kids. He couldn’t stand to be away from them for more than a few hours, maybe because he hadn’t had a relationship at all with his own dad growing up, and he wanted his kids to know what it was like to have a dad who loved them.”
His parents had divorced when Boyd was 5, and he hadn’t had contact with his dad since then – until last month, when the two had reconnected. Boyd had been hoping to reestablish a relationship with his dad, Amanda said.
The gunshot that shattered a dream
Boyd was born in Mansfield, but he and his two brothers, William and Brian, grew up in the Ashland, Nebraska, area. When he was 13, his mother, Vicki, a single mom, moved her boys to Good Hope, near Bradleyville, so she could help care for her mother, Frances Keen, after she had both legs amputated due to complications of diabetes.
Bo attended school in Plainview and later at Bradleyville and Ava. During the family’s first Christmas in Missouri in 2003, Boyd was accidentally shot by his brother who had gotten a .44 muzzleloader as a Christmas gift. “He lost his left elbow, his left kidney and half of his stomach,” Amanda said. “And the bullet was wedged between the L1 and L2 vertebrae in his back. He was in the hospital nine months and had dozens of surgeries. They said he would never walk again, never have children. But that just made him more determined to walk,” she said.
At 6’6”, Boyd had been a basketball star in the making and had dreams of college scholarships, even at that young age. But the damage to his elbow meant the end of his basketball dreams.
Soon after that, he dropped out of high school and started cutting and hauling cedar. He also worked as a professional tree trimmer. He loved dirt bikes, motorcycles and four-wheelers, Amanda said.
Poor in wealth, rich in love
She and Boyd met when they were 15 at the home of Amanda’s best friend, Amber Shouts, whose sister was married to Boyd’s brother William. Amanda graduated from Ava High School in 2009, and a few years later, when she was planning to move to Springfield with her daughter Jaiden, who was then 3, Boyd showed up unexpectedly at her storage unit to help load her things. A few days later, he showed up again at her apartment in Springfield after Amber told him where Amanda had moved.
“It sounds stupid now, but he showed up, and he never left,” she said. “That’s just the best way to put it.”
The first time young Jaiden encountered Bo at the apartment, “she did not want him nowhere near her,” Amanda said. “She threw a horrible fit. Bo told me his two nieces lived just down the street, and he asked if he could take Jaiden to play with them and get ice cream the next day. I said OK. The next night, when I came home from work, Jaiden was calling Bo ‘Dad.’ And you could see by the twinkle in his eye that he loved it,” she said.
A little more than a month later, on May 26, 2012, they were married standing barefoot in the creek at the roadside park between Ava and Mansfield. They were both 21.
“We were so poor,” Amanda said. But they were rich in their love for each other and the family they would create together. She worked in home healthcare, and Bo continued to work with Josh Smith cutting cedar and also tree-trimming. Recently he had bought his own equipment and planned to go into cedar cutting on his own. They had scheduled their jobs so that one of them was watching the kids while the other worked.
Now, Amanda’s hoping to find work closer to home so she can stay near her children. She’s also bracing for the huge medical bills she knows are coming.
Grateful for the kindness
She’s been to the scene of the accident, wondering what happened.
“The kids weren’t buckled. I really don’t know what was going through Bo’s mind. It’s kind of an unusual thing for him. If we were on a dirt road, I know they might have been unbuckled, but they were on a highway, so it was unusual circumstances,” she said. “I want to see Bo’s cell phone. What was he listening to? Was he on the phone? I want answers.”
She couldn’t find his phone at the scene and thinks it might be in his truck, but MSHP has put a hold on the vehicle pending an investigation. There’s some insurance, she said, “but I worry now that it will go up, and if it does, I wonder how I’ll pay for it.”
A fund in Boyd Hill’s name has been set up at Century Bank to help pay expenses and support the kids. Another fundraiser – “Help with Boyd James Hill funeral expenses and children” – has been set up on Facebook. Amanda says she’s grateful for the kindness shown by friends and family, including her parents, Lisa Graham and Everett Lakey, and and mother-in-law,Vicki Hill.
“The crazy thing is, Boyd always told me that I’m his ‘solid,’ and I was the reason he could do the things he did. This is the first time we’ve been apart from each other, and I didn’t realize how solid he was for me. I knew he was a big part of my life, but I just didn’t know how big,” she said.
See Boyd Hill’s obituary, page 8.