Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?


Community comes out to support injured Tyler Johns of Naples at fundraiser

By Tom Rife, Daily News Correspondent

What the members of the Johns family have done in the last six months is show others a path to life — even when the shadow of death is working to block every conceivable ray of promise.

First came the phone call on Christmas Eve, the night Tyler Johns found his sister, Lisa, dead on the second floor of the family guesthouse. She had taken her own life after years of battling deep personal depression.

Then came that late-night call on May 7, only about an hour shy of Mother’s Day.

It was Tyler again, this time trying to explain over a weak cellphone signal that he had lost an arm in an airboat accident in the swamp near Miami.

“All I heard was he said, ‘Mom, I’ve lost one of my arms.’ And then the phone went silent,” said Lorrie Johns, the mother of a 32-year-old swamp buggy driver.

Moments later, she found out that her son was still alive and on his way via helicopter to Kendall Regional Medical Center.

“I don’t know how we would have dealt with it if he had not survived. Our lives would have felt like they were over,” Lorrie said Sunday at the Florida Sports Park.

Hundreds of race fans, fellow drivers, friends and family members packed the facility’s air-conditioned pavilion — all in support of the Johns family and specifically, Tyler.

A final tally of funds raised through the charity benefit will reach the thousands. As of 3 p.m. Sunday, another $50,680 had been pledged on a GoFundMe page.

It takes courage to stare down adversity.

Courage and family are two things Tyler Johns has never let down. Anyone who has ever seen him drive a swamp buggy around the treacherous Mile-O-Mud knows that the word “fear” isn’t part of his daily routine.

Now he is the living example that adversity can be conquered.

“I want to live life,” he said Sunday while wearing a medical device designed to help heal the wound and fight infection. “I don’t want people to think I’m strugglin’ because I’m livin’. I’m gonna live a full life. I have a daughter I live for. I have a wife to live for. That’s just me. I’m here to live and to fulfill what God sent me here to do. And that’s what I’m gonna do.”

Tyler’s wife of seven years, Samantha, and 6-year-old daughter, Rorie, have witnessed Daddy’s bravery and resolve as well.

“I just think he keeps getting stronger,” a tearful Samantha — brave in her own right — said of her husband. “He’s just amazing. It only makes our relationship stronger.”

If — when — Tyler Johns does drive a swamp buggy again, he won’t be the first to do it using only one hand. Leonard Chesser, known as “The Godfather of Swamp Buggy Racing” because his storied accomplishments in the sport, was commonly seen with one hand on the steering wheel and the other with a firm grip on the roll bar.

“Guess I’ll have to do it like Leonard did,” Tyler said with a laugh.

One of the most precious moments of Sunday’s fundraiser came when Sheriff Kevin Rambosk and two members of the Collier County Emergency Medical Services department took the microphone to pay homage to those who saved Tyler’s life that fateful night.

Assistant Chief Tabitha Butcher surprised nurse Kandi Zielinski and friends Luke Neubille and Clint Scott. Butcher called them to the stage — and Tyler, too — to present the Citizen Life Saving Award to Zielinski for the role she played in Johns’ rescue.

A nurse on the Lee Memorial Trauma Center staff since 2008, Zielinski was on an airboat that night as well, one driven by Neubille. Her training instinctively kicked into gear as she applied a tourniquet to Tyler’s severed arm to help control the bleeding. Neubille drove Johns’ airboat out of the swamp to a waiting truck driven by Scott to a spot were firetruck EMTs were able to treat Johns prior to his being taken by helicopter to the Kendall Regional Medical Center.

“We didn’t do anything for Tyler that we would not have done for anybody else,” the modest Zielinski said. “Tyler is the hero. And I just can’t believe how his wife, Samantha, has handled all of this. She is so strong.”

Up until Sunday, Zielinski had been reluctant to talk about her quick thinking. She said she did not attend Sunday’s event for the purpose of receiving an award. In fact, she knew nothing of Butcher’s intentions until called to the stage.

“Easier said than done,” Neubille said of doing what needed to be done under the grave pressure of the situation. “We just knew we had to do something to help Tyler out of there.”

Racing has helped strengthen the bond between Tyler and his parents. He works with the family-owned Phoenix & Associates site preparation company and will continue in his supervisory role as time and healing allow.

“The only reason that we can get through this is because we have strong faith in God,” said Randy Johns, Rorie’s grandpa. “We’re not gonna change. I want that to carry on through Tyler. I want him to know that God carried him through this and God will carry him out the other side.

“Racing is something Tyler and I can do together. It’s played a big part in our bond. It brings the community together and it brings us together as a family. The turnout today shows what kind of a second family we have, too. It’s just incredible. It really makes me proud to be part of this organization and part of this community. I am starting to get a little tired. But after today, I am re-energized. I’m ready to go.”

Back in March, it was Randy who convinced his grieving wife and son to race in the Winter Classic. Still dealing with Lisa’s death, they chose not to take part in that Saturday’s events despite the fact that the points lead was at stake.

When they did decide to drive that Sunday, they made quite a splash. Lorrie lost her first race in the main bracket, yet proceed to win eight straight loser’s bracket heats to claim to honors in the V8 Sportsman division.

In the 2016 Budweiser Cup Series final in April, Lorrie flawlessly drove to the top of the heap again and claimed her second world championship.

Randy and Lorrie just keep on learning about Tyler.

“Tyler has an inner strength deeper than anybody I know,” Randy said. “I am so proud of the way he is handling himself. He’ll be a testimony to other people and they will be able to see how he handles himself and get through their tragedies. If Tyler sets an example, they can follow that.”

Tyler went out of his way to thank everyone who attended Sunday’s fundraiser. He said it was difficult to convey his feelings for all the support he has received.

“It makes me feel extremely warm inside,” he said. “I’m floored by it. I never would have expected this ever. I’m grateful. I just can’t express how thankful I am for everybody coming out here.”

In sports, inspiration comes at you from all angles — even from the swamp and the oddball motor sport called swamp buggy racing.

The inspiration provided by the Johns family will never fade.

Written By

Avi Adkins is a seasoned journalist with a passion for storytelling and a keen eye for detail. With years of experience in the field, Adkins has established himself as a respected figure in journalism.

You May Also Like


From trendy restaurants to historic homes, there’s plenty to enjoy in the Downtown Fort Myers River District. If you’re on a tight schedule but want...


FORT MYERS, Fla. — Our friend Chef Cal from Bruno’s of Brooklyn cooked up an appetizer and an entree that are quick and easy...


ENGLEWOOD, Fla. – Two people were attacked by a dog in Englewood Wednesday afternoon. A man and a woman both in their 60’s were...


LEE COUNTY, Fla. — Local chef Brian Roland is being transferred to rehabilitation to continue his recovery process following an accident at a car...