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Forgotten prisoner survived tornado in jail cell

A Kiowa County man who does not want to be identified has a frightening story about surviving the Greensburg tornado.

He was in jail in Greensburg on a DUI charge the night the tornado hit. He had been arrested and convicted in Sedgwick County, he says, but arranged a transfer to the Kiowa County Jail to serve his six-month sentence on work release. It was his second arrest — the first was in the early 1970s, he says — so he was sentenced to jail.

The man was in his cell and watching the storm approach on TV. He heard the sirens, and then realized that sheriff’s deputies had forgotten to evacuate him when they hustled prisoners in other cells down to the basement.

The TV went dead. He heard “one hell of a roar.” His ears popped, and then the jail took the brunt of the tornado. Part of the roof was ripped off, but the concrete portion held fast. The skylight was sucked out through the roof, he says, and he thought he was next.

The man held tightly onto the bars of his cell. “I thought I was gone,” he says. “That’s the scaredest I’ve ever been. I’ve had lung surgery, and I wasn’t near as scared as I was that night in the jail.”

After the storm had passed, deputies discovered that he had been left upstairs in his cell. They asked if he was OK, then left and didn’t return for about 30 minutes, he says. During the early morning hours, the man was transferred to the Dodge City Jail and then eventually brought back to Pratt, where he finished serving his sentence.

The man says he had considered a lawsuit against the county for what had happened to him, but decided against it.

“I want to live in Kiowa County,” he says, “but I couldn’t have stayed if I had sued.”

When people chuckle at his story and near misfortune, he says it’s a humorous story now. But, he adds, it wasn’t funny the night it happened. He says he’s lucky to be alive.

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