Map: Tonopah, Arizona
TONOPAH, Ariz. -- An Arizona man is blind in one eye after unspent ammunition left buried in the desert exploded in his campfire on Christmas Eve.
Target shooting in the desert is not illegal, but it can have dangerous, even deadly, consequences. When people leave their rounds -- both spent and unspent -- on the ground, it's an accident waiting to happen.
George Johnson, who used to spend quite a bit of time in the desert outside Tonopah less than an hour west of Phoenix, found that out the hard way.
While enjoying a quiet Christmas Eve under the stars, Johnson -- who is known by many as "George of the desert" -- leaned down to blow on this small campfire.
"I thought an ember blew up in eye," he told 3TV's Steve Bodinet.
That ember was actually a .22 slug that had been buried in the dirt beneath his campfire, and it cost Johnson his right eye. He did not know it was there until the flames fro his little fire caused it to explode.
"The cartridge embedded in my eye," he said. "At first I thought I just hurt my eye, but then I felt my eye running out in my hand.
"It’s like I have an ice pick in my eye, going into my nerve," he continued."Imagine that -- 24-seven."
Not only did the bullet cost Johnson his eye, it might have cost him his livelihood. He's an artist and with no vision in his right eye, he has no depth perception. That means he cannot draw.
Bodinet accompanied Johnson to his campsite and together they found more live ammunition scattered all over the desert floor.
Johnson says people who leave their ammunition where it falls are simply lazy.
"It's not their backyard," he exclaimed.
While the area has been one of his favorite camping spots, Johnson said he won't go back anytime soon. It's just too dangerous.
Johnson said doctors told him he needs a cornea transplant, but that's not something his AHCCCS plan from Arizona's Medicaid Agency covers.