Lady Houdini to return to South Florida Fair with special message about distracted driving

Performer shares experience from horrific crash

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - The countdown is on to the South Florida Fair.

Opening day is this Friday and for one performer, that exact day marks an important milestone.

On January 12, 2017, a teenager distracted by her phone nearly killed Lady Houdini and her husband. The couple has since recovered and now they're incorporating the dangers of distracted driving into their performance.

"It's pretty surreal," said Lady Houdini, also known as Kristen Johnson.

That's how she and her husband Kevin Ridgeway described the past year.

"There's nothing that can prepare you for something like that," Kristen said.

Last January, the couple was preparing for another year of Lady Houdini performances at the South Florida Fair. Kevin assists Kristen in all of her stunts.

"We left the gym to come to grounds, the night before the fair opened," recalled Kristen. "We got to Belvedere and Sansbury and we were T-boned."

Right outside the fairgrounds, their car was struck by a driver who ran a red light while looking down at her phone. The crash was violent and Kevin had to be extracted from the vehicle by fire rescue crews.

"The front end of her vehicle was 20 inches inside of ours so her bumper was basically sitting inside his chest," described Kristen.

Kevin was nearly killed. Even the phone in his pocket was bent in half by the force of the car.

"He has eight titanium plates in his chest, broken scapula, he had two brain bleeds and he lost a kidney," said Kristen, adding that he had several broken bones including his leg.

Kristen was also badly injured, with three broken ribs, a puncture in her lung and a concussion.

"All of my injuries were a result of his body hitting mine," said Kristen. "The force at which we were struck was catastrophic.

Kevin was airlifted to St. Mary's Medical Center where he began a long recovery process.

"I had to learn how to walk again and had to learn how to actually write my name again," said Kevin.

Kristen cited the support of the community as their motivation to make a full recovery. 

"The fair family wrapped their arms around us and supported us in ways I can't even tell you," she said. "The encouragement has been phenomenal."

Quantum House, a family medical rehab facility on the St. Mary's campus, also helped the Kristen stay close to Kevin.

"What was really unique for us, because we travel on the road and because of the level of his injuries -- I didn't have a safe place to bring him back to. I couldn't get him back to our trailer on the grounds," she said. "So they had a facility there where we had access to a room with a wheelchair ramp, they provided meals in the evening which was a huge help. It allowed us to be together."

After intense rehab and recovery, the duo went back to the stage just eight months later in August and have been touring the country with their Lady Houdini show ever since.

WPTV got a sneak peek of how they're taking their experience and turning it into a lesson of distracted driving for their audience.

"This is the seat from the BMW we were riding in," said Kristen, pointing to a mangled red car seat that is being used as a learning tool during a portion of their show. "It's pretty destroyed, you can see the amount of pressure to twist the frame."

The audience will have a chance to hear their personal story of recovery. Kevin showed us photos before and after his crash.

"This photo was taken January 8, 2017, just four days before the wreck," he said, holding up a photo of him posing and prepping for body building competitions he wanted to apply for."

He then turned the photo around to an image taken weeks after the crash, showing an almost emaciated Kevin with a walker.

"I was unconscious for five weeks and I woke up like this, 140 pounds. I lost 66 pounds, over a third of my entire body weight. I didn't recognize myself in the mirror," he said. "We're excited to be back and share this new story we have along with the rest of the show."

The pair hopes through their show this year they can teach others to drive safely and prevent the tragedy that almost became their reality.

"It's just a matter of how can you make the world a better place. You can't change what happened, you can't get a do-over on it but what we would like to do is have a positive impact as a result of it," said Kristen. "If we can get one person from driving distracted -- whether it's changing your radio, yelling at a kid in the back seat, texting or having the phone in your hand -- it will be worthwhile."

Lady Houdini said she still suffers from the effects of her concussion but added that she's excited to perform at the fair again.

Her first performance will be this Friday, January 12 at 3 p.m. at the fairgrounds.

Click here to see her performance schedule.

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