PORT RICHEY — Vaughn Hayes loved working with cars, using skills he had learned from his father. He spent years under the hood and about a year working with trucks at Dave's Truck Shop on Leo Kidd Avenue.
At 3 p.m. June 26, Hayes left his job at Tampa's Cone & Graham, a road construction firm. An hour later, the 21-year-old father of two arrived at his second job as an auto mechanic at Dave's, where he started repairing a semitrailer transmission at 4:23 p.m.
The shop's owner, Dave Egyed, didn't see what happened. Doesn't know how it happened. Doesn't know how it could have happened. He just heard the 800-pound transmission hit the ground. And when he called Hayes' name, there was no answer.
A friend of Hayes' who had been standing beside the truck called 911.
"A transmission fell on my friend's head, … a very big transmission. … He's a young kid. … Please hurry, ma'am, please, please hurry," the friend told the 911 dispatcher, according to a tape of the call.
Hayes was not conscious, but he was breathing.
"We're holding him. Please hurry," the friend said during the 911 call. "Stay up, man. … Ma'am, please hurry, please. … Come on!"
The paramedics arrived at 4:37 p.m. and found Hayes bleeding from an open wound to the brain. A helicopter arrived at 4:52 p.m. and lifted off 20 minutes later to take him to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.
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A Port Richey police officer called Hayes' 19-year-old wife, Katie, to inform her of the accident. She raced to the hospital. Hayes was in surgery when she got there.
"They were putting his head back together," she said.
When she saw him in the intensive care unit, Hayes was in a medically induced coma, and his fair, handsome face was all stitched up.
"It didn't look anything like him," she said.
She came back every day to be by his side, hold his hand and pray that he would beat death. He had already done it once.
Eight years ago, doctors told Hayes that the chemotherapy used to treat his lymphoma would prevent him from ever being a father. But he survived the cancer and went on to have two children with Katie: Daughter Courtney is 2 and son Vaughn is 4 months old.
Hayes' brother, Jeremy, remembered when Hayes was in the hospital with cancer, but he never thought he'd see his brother the way he was last week.
"I thought he would pull through," said Jeremy, 19. "He was my best friend."
But after a week of fighting, he died. Hayes' heart stopped beating Friday evening.
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Because Hayes was an independent contractor working some 20 hours a week, Dave's Truck Shop didn't have a worker's compensation policy on him.
Egyed said he doesn't know what he's supposed to do. He's been in business only a few years, and he's never had an accident like this before.
An inquiry with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services was unable to find a motor vehicle repair license registered to Egyed, his shop or his address. He declined to give his license number Tuesday.
Egyed said he did not report the accident to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration because no one told him to.
"I don't know what I should do," he said. "If I could turn back the hands of time, I most certainly would. I'm very sorry it all happened."
The OSHA office in Tampa just found out about the accident and is in the process of investigating, said the director, Leslie Grove.
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Katie, a stay-at-home mom, is on her own to pay Hayes' medical bills (which she hasn't received yet) and care for their children. She moved out of their mobile home in Moon Lake, which she could no longer afford, and moved in with a friend's parents.
Knowing that Katie had just received Hayes' last paycheck, some of her friends at Superior Style & Sound, an auto parts and accessories store in Hudson, wanted to help her. Superior's marketing manager, Richard Augat, said Hayes was a friend and a role model in the community, a clean-living person and a family man.
Augat and Superior's owner, Jim Johnson, started planning a benefit featuring car washes, raffles, contests and prizes. A similar event in February raised about $1,000 for a local man down on his luck, but Augat says this one will be bigger.
Everything they raise will go to Katie, and they say it doesn't matter how much they have to spend to put on the event, which will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday.
"I just wish someone would do it for us if it happened to one of us," Johnson said.
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Jeremy Hayes thinks his brother would have loved an event like this. Katie is grateful for the help, but she thinks Hayes wouldn't feel right about taking from others.
"Vaughn's the type of person that would give, not take," she said, wearing his wedding band on her middle finger, next to her own ring.
He loved working on cars, swimming and mud bogging, and spending time with his family.
"He was a perfect father," Katie said.
The children look just like him. The baby won't remember him, but their daughter knows what her dad looked like, Katie said. She saw pictures of Hayes on the computer and exclaimed, "Dada." It brought Katie to tears.
"I know I'm going to have to explain to her. I don't know when. I don't know how," she said. "I don't even know what to say, what to think. I'm so confused by everything."
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Isaac Arnsdorf can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6232.