Sunday, January 21, 2001

16-year-old dies while bull riding

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Chad Thomas
        Chad Thomas had named the bull that killed him. The 16-year-old cowboy called him Hangover, because of the way he stumbled into a Butler County corral last week.

        Chad was one of the first to walk the bull, talk to him and prepare him for the weekly rodeos at Hang'n Tree Ranch.

        He was also one of the first to ride Hangover. And authorities say when the bull started bucking and snorting Friday night, Chad lost his grip, got caught in a rope and was struck in the head by one of the bull's horns.

        The Ross High School sophomore was taken to Fort Hamilton Hospital by Millville life squad, where he was pronounced dead at 9:30 p.m. The Butler County coroner's office said the death was an accident.

        “All he wanted to do was be a bull rider,” Chad's 21-year-old sister, Brianne Thomas, said Saturday.

        In a phone interview from the family's home on Ross-Hanover Road, Ms. Thomas spoke between sobs and laughter as she described her brother's devotion to being a cowboy, working on the ranch and his desire to lay claim to being the best rider.

        She said about the only other thing he talked about was getting a driver's license, and he was impatient about having to wait for it.

        Chad's mother and stepfather, Cheri and Tim Theiss, recalled his minor scrapes and bruises and the one time “he got stepped on.

        “Two weeks ago, for the first time, he made eight seconds,” his sister said. “He said then that was what he was going to do for a living.”

        Eight seconds is the magic number for bull riders: the time they attempt to stay sitting on the back of a 1,600-pound beast once it bursts from the chute.

        Chad loved the bulls so much that on Friday he went straight to the Hang'n Tree after school without stopping at home first, as he did most days.

        Fridays were Chad's payoff for a week of exercising, feeding and caring for the bulls. That's when some 250 people from around the Tristate pack into the Hang'n Tree's barn to root for the bull riders. There, competitors — who are mostly in their late teens and early 20s — can earn $300 or more in prize money.

        But Chad wasn't after the money, said friend Casey Spreckelmeier, whose parents own the Hang'n Tree, on Cochran Road.

        Chad, who learned to ride on a garbage can connected to a rope, went from there to the real thing, bypassing mechanical bulls altogether. He just wanted to ride.

        “He was a hero in a lot of people's eyes,” Mr. Spreckelmeier, 23, said. “I mean I got him started in this. ... I took him to a lot of rodeos. He was like my best friend, kind of like a little brother.”

        Mr. Spreckelmeier was watching Friday when Chad was pitched from Hangover.

        “I don't want to talk about it,” he said. “It was a freak accident.... it could've happened to anyone.”

        Chad's sister says the family doesn't hold anything against the ranch or the Spreckelmeiers.

        He put in so much time at the ranch that Sundays were about the only day his family saw him before sundown, and today was supposed to be extra special. His parents had bought tickets to the World's Toughest Bulls and Broncs competition at Firstar Center.

        “They were going to wake him up and take him down there, it was a surprise,” Ms. Thomas said.

        Instead, they will be making funeral arrangements at Brown & Dawson Funeral Home and thinking about a memorial planned Friday at the Hang'n Tree Ranch.

        “He was a part of everyone's life here,” Mr. Spreckelmeier said. “And he knew those bulls like they were his pets.”


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