Family, Friends Hold Vigil for Burned Youth

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A Newbury Park teenager who was nearly electrocuted remained in extremely critical condition Tuesday, bandaged from head to toe and heavily sedated as his family and friends held a vigil outside his hospital room.

About 15 friends of Michael Halsell clustered in the hallway of the Grossman Burn Center at Sherman Oaks Hospital, each kneeling to add their inscriptions to a large poster that read, "We love U Mike, Stay Strong."

Doctors said the 17-year-old was lucky to be alive after he received a surge of up to 220,000 volts of electricity Monday while practicing rock-climbing techniques from a 175-high tower carrying Southern California Edison power lines near the Ventura Freeway.

Doctors hoped they could begin this morning the arduous process of peeling off layers of the teen's skin seared with third-degree burns.

"This is a very strong young man," said Dr. Peter Grossman, a plastic surgeon at the burn center founded by his father, physician A. Richard Grossman. "This kind of injury would have killed 99 out of 100 people" immediately.

Although Halsell's mother, Bonnie, and his brothers, Chris, 20, and John, 14, declined to talk about him to reporters, his friends spoke about his strength and determination, and tried to stay positive.

"He's very stubborn and that's what's getting him through right now," said Lynn Jorden, 18, a student at Newbury Park High School where Halsell is a senior. "I think he's going to pull through because he's very strong."

Meanwhile, Halsell's friends at school met throughout the day, crying, hugging and talking quietly about the accident.

Grief counselors visited the classes in which Halsell is a student, while classmates painted a 12-foot by 8-foot poster with the words "You're in Our Hearts, Mike" and displayed it in a classroom. Throughout the day, well-wishers added personal messages and signed their names.

The accident occurred Monday after Halsell and two friends completed their regular half-day of classes and drove to the high-voltage Edison tower near the Conejo Grade to practice rappelling, rock-climbing style.

Mike Palmer, a more experienced climber than Halsell, already had descended the rappelling rope tied to the tower about 100 feet off the ground. Seth Haglund had not climbed that day. The two boys were standing at the foot of the tower, waiting for Halsell to descend, when they heard an explosion.

They saw a stunned Halsell on the beam overhead, lying down with his clothing on fire. He later got up and tried to climb down a ladder, which ended 75 feet above the ground, his back still smoldering.

His friends persuaded him to wait on the beam until Edison workers arrived to disable the lines. A rescue worker then strapped Halsell's body to his and the two were lowered to the ground, where Halsell was taken to the hospital by helicopter.

In most cases of electrical shock, the current takes the path of least resistance through the human body, Grossman said, avoiding major organs and charring tissue and muscle instead.

"As the current goes through there, it basically cooks the tissues from the inside," Grossman said.

Although Halsell was on a respirator Tuesday afternoon, his kidneys were functioning and his temperature had returned from 90 degrees back to normal.

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