By Conor McCue

DENVER (CBS4) – One year ago Sunday, a rare weather event called a derecho crossed Colorado. The line of severe thunderstorms uprooted hundreds of trees and caused widespread damage across our state and several others. In southwest Denver, the winds made for an unforgettable scare for one family, after branches on a falling tree impaled Erich Newman and his nine-year-old daughter Kaitlyn.

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“What I remember from that day is it went from 0 to 100 and it changed within the flash of an eye,” said Erich Newman.

On Sunday, Newman was joined by family and friends for what they called a “stronger than the storm” get together. According to Newman, the idea of the lunch event was for loved ones to get together, remember what happened, and give thanks for everyone’s health and safety a year later.

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“We’re stronger because of what happened, that’s for sure,” Newman said. “We’ve taken some knowledge out of that storm and realized that you can never be too sure about what the weather is going to do.”

On June 6, 2020, Newman and his family were at his mother’s house helping with chores when the rare, powerful storm came through.

While the group was still outside, a large spruce in the front yard fell on top of the driveway, where both Newman and his daughter were standing.

“[I was] just running across the street to get to my dad and then the next thing I’m laying on the ground with a pine tree on top of me,” Kaitlyn Newman said.

Kaitlyn was impaled in the leg by a branch, but family members were able to get her to safety in short time. She was eventually taken to the hospital, where she was given stitches and released.

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Erich was impaled and pinned underneath the tree for nearly 45 minutes before firefighters could get him out. Doctors later said the tree branch came a half an inch from piercing his spine.

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“They said that I’m the luckiest person ever, and I’ll agree,” Newman said. “Half an inch to the right and it could be a tremendous difference to either not being here or not be able to be mobile like I am.”

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For Newman, months of home nursing and physical therapy followed, as well as another trip to the surgeon to remove a four-inch piece of wood found in his back weeks later.  Seven months later, Newman returned to work.

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“[I’m] grateful for everybody’s prayers, help with donations,” He said. “All that stuff was a big help to be able to make it seven months without work.”

As the pain and physical limitations go away, some fears still linger. Newman said Kaitlyn, as well as other family members, can sometimes be on edge whenever severe weather comes through the area.

“We’ve had some relapses with the winds and the storms, but we’ve talked it out and we’ve figured out through counselors the things she can do to try to minimize that stress.”

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Moving forward, Newman said he hopes his family proves it is stronger than the storm, as well as better prepared for another one.

“That was a one in a million chance that we would be in that predicament. I’ve made [Kaitlyn] a promise it will never happen again.”

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The toppled spruce has since been removed. Newman’s mother now calls the area a “victory garden” to celebrate how everyone has overcome.

Conor McCue