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Rockslide at Lake Mead destroys couple’s RV, leaves them homeless

Lake Mead Accident

Provided by National Park Service

A rockslide near Boxcar Cove at Lake Mead National Recreation Area on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2010, destroyed the RV home of Tonya Schissel and Trent Brown, an engaged couple planning to move to the valley.

Boxcar Cove

On Nov. 14, Tonya Schissel and her fiancé, Trent Brown, were camping in their RV at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The couple came to the valley after Brown left the Marines in October, ready to start a new life as civilians.

At about 3:30 a.m., massive boulders -- described by a Park Service ranger as 30 feet by 50 feet -- crushed the back half of their vehicle, which held almost all of their belongings, trapping Schissel and one of the couple’s two dogs, at their campsite near Boxcar Cove.

Rescue vehicles took 30 minutes to reach the scene, but Brown was able to pull his wife-to-be from the wreckage. When the Clark County Fire Department arrived, the crew used the Jaws of Life to free Tootsie Roll, their yellow Labrador retriever.

Although they escaped with their lives, their livelihood has been devastated, Schissel said. The couple had insurance through State Farm for their possessions, but Schissel said they had deemed the accident as an "act of God" and wouldn't cover their losses. She has no family to help them, and Brown’s family lives in Belize.

Their move from Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, Calif., to Las Vegas was supposed to be a new beginning.

“This is our lives,” said Schissel, adding she was “still hysterical” in the following days. Their Dodge pickup truck was also totaled.

“We lost everything,” she said.

For the time being, the American Red Cross gave Schissel and Brown a $500 pre-paid credit card and they are staying at a motel. But that money could run out in days, and Schissel said they will likely be homeless when it does.

Jennifer Ramich, director of communications for the Red Cross chapter in Southern Nevada, said the organization would continue to help Schissel and Brown find resources to “start building their lives.”

Schissel said they hoped to hear from the Department of Veterans Affairs, but had seen little help outside of the Red Cross.

“We did everything right," she said. "We served our country, and we are getting screwed."

The hardest part, she said, is the randomness of the event. The couple had planned for their trip to Lake Mead to be a brief prelude to a permanent move to Las Vegas. She said both of them had been filling out resumes to find work.

National Park Service Ranger Greg Morse, first on the scene, said he had “never seen anything like this” in eight years at his post. He said he had noticed their campsite in the previous days, but hadn’t thought a rockslide could happen there.

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