Strike harms state officers

Staff and wire reports

PORTALES — New Mexico State Police Officers Lance Bateman and Clint Varnell had just finished helping two women and three small children from a vehicle in a flooded ditch.

“I heard a loud crack and felt the pain on my head then went down,” Bateman said Wednesday from his bed at Lubbock’s Covenant Hospital. “I remember I was laying in the water when I came to and he (Varnell) was standing over me.”

The pain Bateman experienced was from a nearby lightning strike.

Officials said Varnell also was injured by lightning as the officers assisted motorists on a rain-flooded road a few miles south of Portales about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday night.

Both men stayed on the job for two hours before driving themselves to the hospital. They were in stable condition Wednesday evening and were expected to be released today.

Varnell and Bateman were called to help people in about 15 vehicles stranded on flooded New Mexico Highway 206, known to residents as the Lovington Highway, about five miles south of Portales, said state police Lt. Jimmy Glascock.

The region had received 2 to 4 inches of rain in just a few hours.

Bateman said that when he and Varnell arrived at the scene, rain was pouring down, water was sweeping across the roadway and there was a lot of lightning.
“It was bad,” he said.

Glascock said authorities initially thought the two men were hit directly, but further investigation showed the officers — who were in standing water at the time — were very close to the strike.

Both officers described a sharp pain in the top of their heads and were extremely nauseous afterward.
Bateman said he and Varnell continued working after the strike because “it really wasn’t much choice. We couldn’t go anywhere anyway. The road was impassable for a while.”
Bateman said they drove themselves to Roosevelt General Hospital in Portales, then were taken by ambulance to Covenant Hospital in Lubbock.

“All I have is a headache and a sore shoulder,” said Bateman, who had been awake for 24 hours before he fell asleep Wednesday afternoon.

Bateman said he did not consider his work heroic.
“Just earning my pay.” he said.

Besides, “we needed the rain,” said Bateman, who has been a state police officer for a little more than two years. He said Varnell has been with the force for about seven years.
Roosevelt County Commissioner Tom Clark said he admires both officers for performing their duties under such difficult conditions.

“I have a very strong respect and admiration for them … I hope neither is hurt in a permanent condition,” Clark said.