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Driver Who Was Trapped in Van Is Reported Stable

March 22, 2000

LYNWOOD — Lee Risler, the 53-year-old sandal maker who tried to cut off his left hand while he lay trapped in an overturned van over the weekend, was in stable condition Tuesday, recovering from surgery at St. Francis Medical Center, officials said.

Meanwhile, his mother, Nee Risler, described the Lucerne Valley resident as "coherent and alert" but said that he's lost three fingers and a thumb. "His arm is crushed and they might have to amputate it," she said.

Nee Risler said her son, who is blind in one eye, was forced down a steep embankment on the San Gabriel Freeway early Saturday when a car sideswiped him.

The Ford van rolled up against some trees, pinning his hand against the door. Risler lay there for two days, listening to the traffic 50 feet above him. Eventually, desperate and thirsty, he opened his pocketknife and tried to cut off his hand at the wrist.

At one point, Risler dropped the knife out of reach, Nee Risler said. Frantic, he began to chew at his wrist but couldn't get free, she said.

"He was drifting in and out of consciousness," she said.

Risler was found about noon Monday by a Caltrans worker who stumbled on the overturned van. Risler was airlifted to St. Francis.

It wasn't clear which of the lacerations on his hand, wrist and fingers were self-inflicted or caused by the accident, officials said.

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