Bullfighter Heath “Hooter” Boswell of Bridgeport was critically injured when a bull stepped on his face during the Saturday night performance of the Wise County Sheriff’s Posse Rodeo in Decatur.
The 22-year rodeo veteran had stepped between a thrown rider and a bull when the beast ran over him.
“That’s the bullfighter’s job, to step in between the bull rider and bull,” said Dale Lyons, owner of Big L Rodeo Co., the stock contractor. “He did that and took the hookin’, as they say, for the bull rider.
“The bull went over him and stepped with his back foot on his face.”
Lyons said in his 30 years as a stock contractor he’d never seen a wreck that bad.
Hooter was treated at the scene by Wise County medics and taken to Wise Regional Health System in Decatur. He was flown from there to John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth and had the first of what is expected to be several reconstructive surgeries Tuesday.
“The surgeon said these are the worse facial fractures he’s ever seen,” said Hooter’s brother, Kelly Boswell. “It crushed everything from his lower eye sockets down.”
Tuesday’s surgery was expected to last eight to 10 hours, but they quit after four hours due to severe swelling. Kelly said they were able to repair both lower jaws and his brother’s chin. Doctors anticipate doing bone grafts from his skull to rebuild his eye sockets.
“They hope to go in again this weekend and fix his cheekbones, lower eye sockets and nose. But as of now, he’s better,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “He looks 110 percent better than when he went into surgery this morning. You can already see the structure back in his jaw and chin.”
Hooter’s mouth is wired shut, and Kelly said he will likely have a tracheotomy for some time. Fortunately, there were no injuries to his internal organs.
“At the end of the day, he will heal and get better,” Kelly said.
Russell Stevens, president of the Wise County Sheriff’s Posse, said it was the worst injury he’s seen in the 15 years he’s been helping put on the rodeo.
“I was standing in the arena when it happened,” he said. “When a bull steps right on your face, you know it’s not good.”
Kelly said Hooter was conscious immediately following the incident. He was able to talk, and he recognized his brother.
“I told him I’d see him at the hospital, and he said, ‘OK, buddy’ and gave me a thumbs up,” Kelly said.
Hooter has been on a ventilator, but Kelly said he was breathing over the machine Monday and joking around as much as he could with family and staff.
“He knows it could have been a whole lot worse, and he’s resilient enough that when he can talk, eat and possibly dip snuff again, he’s on it,” said Kelly.
In his bullfighting career, Hooter has broken his nose five or six times, broken his ankle, suffered severe cuts to his face and had a horn run through his leg.
He and his wife, Lisa, live in Bridgeport. They have three children, daughter Kelly, 22; daughter Shaye, 14; and son J.W., 11. He also builds metal buildings.
Kim Stepp with Big L Rodeo Co. said a fundraiser is planned for the family, who has no insurance. No date is set, but the event will likely include a team roping, bull riding and church service over a weekend at the Bridgeport arena. They will release more details as soon as they are final.
For more information or to help with the fundraiser, call Stepp at 580-775-4701.