Jon Richards and Steve Forsythe met in seventh grade while attending neighboring schools in Whittier, California. From day one, they were drawn together and found solitude in their hobbies; skateboarding and girls. Everyday after school, they’d be at each others houses, or riding down the sidewalk, exploring the concrete jungle – they were inseparable, like brothers.
Fast forward to Memorial Day weekend 2001. Jon Richards, 19 at the time, and his best friend took a trip out to the Colorado River area in Blythe, CA. After a long day, Steve made his way back to the trailer to sleep, while Jon went to watch festive boat drags. As the night was coming to an end, Jon sat down to eat a few trailers away; what happened next would change their lives forever.
Within seconds, Richards heard frantic screaming from the trailer. Alerted by the horrified bystanders, he ran over to see what all the fuss was about; an electrical fault had caused the trailer to erupt in flames. Richards ran inside to make sure his best friend was out of harms way. Waking Steve, they turned to escape the advancing flames. Blinded by fire and thick smoke, they ran into a wall and hit the ground, clearing their line of sight and they bounced back up and ran low out the burning trailer.
The back of Jon’s shirt had caught fire; he dropped to the ground and rolled around in the wet dirt to extinguish his already charred clothing. Fueled by adrenaline, Richards started yelling at the top of his lungs, grabbing the attention of nearby campers. Thankfully, a nurse came to his aid, covering him with wet towels, dousing him in water and doing everything to keep his body temperature down.
It took 45 minutes for an ambulance to arrive due to the desolate location of the campgrounds; Jon and Steve were on their way to the nearest hospital to treat their burns. Upon his arrival, the doctors dosed him with morphine. His last memory; asking if Steve was ok. Hearsay states that Jon was put into a helicopter and flown to Palm Springs, the only location that provided clearance, where he was placed in an ambulance and driven to The Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton, CA, nine hours later. Richards was cool, calm, and collected, unaware of the severity of his injuries.
Unconscious, Jon began experiencing lucid, morphine-induced dream sequences. Bizarre scenarios of being chased by Mexican drug cartels, driving through tunnels flooding his subconscious. Vivid images of his family trying to “fix” him at Chinese restaurants and shopping malls flashed in his head. Meanwhile, the doctors in charge of treating him were certain that Jon would not make it through the night; but nurses dedicated all their efforts to save the man who saved his best friend.
The temperature inside the trailer was estimated to be around 3000%; As a result of 60% of his body being covered in third-degree burns, Richards was placed in a medically induced coma to avoid his body going into shock and shutting down; he was given a 4% chance of survival. His companion, Stevie, had 82% of his body covered in third-degree burns and too was put in a coma, given a 2% chance to live. Steve was brought out after two weeks due to his heart stopping three times, while Jon remained in his coma for three and a half weeks. Their bond was so deep that upon their awakening, the first thing they made sure of was whether their manhood was intact; morbid humor at its finest.
The human body operates on a basic level under a coma; just blood flow, brain activity, and heart function. Factor that with extreme nerve damage and painful skin grafts, and you have a recipe for a brutal, lengthy rehabilitation process. During his two grueling therapy sessions every day, He had to relearn how to walk, and regain usage of his limbs. Instructed that he was not to leave the hospital until he was able to make a full lap around the facility, Richards mustered up the strength after two exhausting weeks; but his journey had only begun.
For months, Jon Richards was utterly unrecognizable. As his body continued to repair itself, Richards had to peel himself off of his blankets, and even the most mundane of tasks were incredibly hard to endure. Richards upped his physical therapy to four times per week while going to the gym five times a week, heavily cloaked in bandages and other gear to cover and protect his scarring. He was told he would not surf ever again.
His inspirational story quickly spread across national media. Richards was the subject of news reports and newspaper articles chronicling his journey. Jon received an accommodation from the city of Whittier, CA, nominated for a Carnegie Medal, and was awarded a Medal of Valor from the California State Firefighters Association. Almost 8 months later on January 10th of 2002, Richards rode his first wave since his injuries.
Richards began thinking about the idea of tattooing his body. Though his physicians said it couldn’t be done, he was inspired after he ran into an old tattooed friend while surfing. After being introduced to the collection of artists at the infamous Good Time Charlie’s Tattooland in Anaheim, CA, Jon got his first tattoo; a phoenix on his shoulder at the age of 26 by Antonio Mejia.
From then, Jon became a regular at Tattooland, drawn to the inclusive, familial atmosphere in the shop. Over the years, Richards and the GTC crew developed a close bond. With the help of amazing artistry, GTC helped Jon bring some closure and made lifelong friends while at it. Jon went on to be featured in the first season of TLC’s LA Ink, where Corey Miller tattooed a crow on his shoulder.
Looking at Richards, it is hard to tell the degree of damage done. Jon has been a loyal Good Time Charlie’s client; the majority of his body is completely covered in masterful black and grey ink from almost all of the GTC tattoo artists. Scar tissue gives a textured look to his tattoos; eye-popping detail makes Jon’s bodysuit a three-dimensional work of art.
Jon is now in the process of attaining a real estate license. Meanwhile, Steve Forsythe made a full recovery after spending three months in the hospital due to failed skin grafts; today he is an avid off-road truck racing enthusiast and works full time. Jon Richards is living, breathing proof that burn victims can be tattooed. As he so put it “Come to Tattooland, it can be done.