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'We were family:' Camp manager reflects on campers who died in flooding; names of victims released
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'We were family:' Camp manager reflects on campers who died in flooding; names of victims released

The victims of the flooding at the Hiddenite Family Campground last week included a Navy veteran, a mother and son and a 1-year-old boy.

On Monday, the Alexander County Sheriff’s Office released the names of the people found dead at the campground: Crystal Dawn LeVan Reed, 49; Tyrell Jordan “Ty” Reed, 18; Tina Ann Allen, 52; Ronald James Wintemute, 76; and 1-year-old Mason Lee Flowers.

In addition to those who died at the campground, another person died as the result of a weather-related car wreck on Hopewell Church Road. That individual's name has not been released. 

Campground manager Beth Korte, 53, said the campground community is like a family. She shared some of her memories of the victims.

She described Allen as a mother figure who would do things like “make sure people wore coats if they weren’t wearing a coat.”

Korte said Wintemute was like a grandfather at the camp.

Last week, Wintemute’s daughter Christine Smith, and friend Nyoka Matney said he was a U.S. Navy veteran and former firefighter who devoted his life to rescuing others.

Crystal and Ty Reed were mother and son. Korte said Ty was his mother’s caretaker and that he would also take time to play with younger children at the campground.

Flowers, just 1 year old at the time of his death, was a beloved and familiar sight at the campground.

“Everybody loved the baby, saw the baby every day because he would be out walking,” Korte said. “We were family.”

She added that the tragedy has brought the campers even closer together and that the campers want to stay together and go back to the camp.

At this point, it is not clear when that could happen.

‘I thought we was going to perish'

In her 20 years as manager of the campground, Korte said she has never witnessed an event like last Thursday.

She started getting calls from campers about water coming into their trailers around 5:30 that morning. When her husband checked the river an hour before, the water was not that high, Korte said.

“It got deep so fast and people were standing on their campers and standing on their trucks, hanging in trees, just holding on for help until the rescue workers got there,” Korte said.

Timothy Ritchie, 64, was in his RV as flood waters endangered the campground.

Ritchie’s neighbor left to look for help, leaving his wife, a baby less than a year old and a daughter around 4 years old with Ritchie and his wife.

As the water rose, Ritchie said he, his wife and the neighbors had to open escape hatches to get away from the flooding. Eventually, they were taken away by rescue workers.

“I thought we was going to perish,” Ritchie said. “Well, we went under a couple times. I know I did, trying to hold everybody above the water.”

With the loss of his uninsured $80,000 RV, Ritchie is one of about 15 families from the campground staying at the Holiday Inn Express in Conover with assistance from the Red Cross.

He and his wife bought the RV two years ago after their home in Statesville burned.

Ritchie said he has undergone 16 back operations but his biggest concern now is his wife, who has health problems of her own.

While Ritchie is heavily insured for his maladies. His wife is not.

He is now taking stock of his situation and trying to figure out how to get the help he needs.

“I’ve never asked for help before in my life,” Ritchie said. “I don’t know what the process is. Everybody is telling me but still you have to know who to call, what day of the week to call. Everything is set on a schedule somehow but I haven’t figured that schedule out yet.”

Amid all the challenges, Ritchie said there has been at least one bright spot in recent weeks.

“We got a new granddaughter just a week ago,” Ritche said. “We need to step back and let them have their glory.”

Kevin Griffin is the City of Hickory reporter at the Hickory Daily Record.

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