‘I was totally surprised’

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 1, 2014

ROCKWELL — Steve Yost still has the knife with which a prison inmate stabbed him 13 times.
He still has the scars, too.
But Yost also has the satisfaction of knowing he probably saved two lives during his 30.5 years with the N.C. Department of Correction. The state honored Yost’s eventful career Aug. 21 when Lt. Gov. Dan Forest stopped in Salisbury and presented him with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the highest civilian award in North Carolina.
The award caught Yost completely by surprise. That morning, he thought he was accompanying his wife, Kathy, to the Andrew Masonic Lodge for a family portrait. When he arrived at the lodge and saw all the cars, Yost assumed it was a rehearsal for a quarry degree ceremony that weekend.
He was still a bit puzzled when he noticed one of his prison superintendents going into the building. When friend Ronnie Strickland walked out to greet him, “I knew something was up,” Yost said.
Inside, the lodge was filled with coworkers, friends and family to mark his June 1 retirement. But when Forest showed up, Yost discovered the morning was more for the special award presentation.
“I was totally surprised,” he said. “You could have knocked me over with a feather.”
The main conspirators who successfully organized everything, down to the lieutenant governor’s visit, were Kathy Yost, Strickland and daughter-in-law Melissa Yost.
In Steve Yost, the gathering honored a U.S. Army veteran and former Bostian Heights fireman who probably drove close to a million miles in prison buses, transporting inmates.
For years, twice a week, he drove a prison bus 360 miles roundtrip to Goldsboro. Two other days a week, he was driving it to a Sandy Ridge processing center between High Point and Greensboro.
Then there were all the days of being a prison guard at both the Rowan Correctional Center and Piedmont Correctional Center, known locally as the high-rise prison.
Yost was working the third floor of the high-rise on Jan. 9, 1989, when inmate Otto Withers stepped off an elevator and charged prison guard Jack Ross.
Withers, who was serving a life sentence for murder, attacked Ross with an 8-inch homemade knife, fashioned from a piece of steel sharpened on both sides.
Withers also had already squirted a mix of gasoline and soap from a shampoo bottle he was carrying. As Yost rushed in to help Ross, he planted a foot to take a good swing, but he slid on the liquid and fell full force into Withers.
As he did so, Withers’ knife plunged into the center of Yost’s chest.
The men went to the ground and were in a full-fledged wrestling match, with Withers’ knife finding its mark on several different parts of Yost’s body, including his neck, thigh, ribs and back.
Ross, who had been stabbed two or three times, but not as seriously as Yost, was eventually able to secure Withers’ knife.
“I had 15 holes in me, but it was from 13 stab wounds,” Yost said.
Dr. Gary Fink happened to be at the prison that morning, and he stabilized Yost, who was losing lots of blood, until an ambulance arrived. While Fink was examining Yost, he pushed his finger into Yost’s chest wound and determined the knife had just missed the heart.
Likewise, the blade had come within centimeters of cutting an important artery in Yost’s neck. Fink told him the knife had eyes.
“Well,” Yost told him, “they were the good Lord’s eyes.”
Yost spent a total of 17 days in the hospital and went back to work seven months later, having been reassigned to the smaller Rowan prison nearby.
While he was participating in a May 1992 manhunt training exercise with law enforcement personnel from across the region, Yost helped save another life.
While pushing through a wooded area at night, friend Jimmy Galyan collapsed in front of him and stopped breathing. Yost, who had EMT training and was a combat medic in the Army, removed all of Galyan’s gear and started CPR.
For the next 45 minutes, Yost and a sergeant from the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office continued CPR until Galyan could be safely extricated from the area and taken to a hospital.
Yost, 61, grew up in Statesville and graduated from Statesville High School in 1971. He entered the Army in September of the same year.
Besides being trained as a combat medic, he attended a truck-driving school for a short time at an Army camp in Texas. When he returned home after two years in the Army, Yost worked for about a year for Excel Tire in Salisbury before going to drive trucks and work for Jim Bost Construction.
One day while building a catch basin, Yost realized he might have a knack for laying brick. After a stint as an apprentice, he became a brick mason for several years until suffering a ruptured disk in his back.
It led him to apply for a job with the Department of Correction in 1983, and he stuck with it.
Yost had another brush with death June 30, 2002, when his pickup was struck almost head on by a car that crossed the center line on N.C. 152. The car’s driver died in the wreck.
Yost’s truck came to rest upside down, and his left leg was broken and caught up under the dashboard. Yost was taken by helicopter to Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, and he missed almost 10 months of work.
His leg has a steel rod in it today, and he also has had his left knee replaced.
“I still hobble,” said Yost, who might soon have to have his right knee replaced, too.
Steve and Kathy have two grown boys, Josh and Eric, and a grandson Ben.
Not long after he retired, Yost still wanted to keep busy. He found a job he loves, driving trucks for Carolina Siteworks.
The stress level is way down, Yost said, and he no longer has to keep telling guys to pull up their pants, turn their hats around or stop cussing.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mark.wineka@salisburypost.com.