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Palm Harbor boy accidentally shot in the head recovering slowly

Tracy Newman snuggles up to Jacob after he came home from the hospital Wednesday.  The boy is able to speak clearly and use his arms, but he’s still working on the use of one hand. Newman says he has adapted well to his new life.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Tracy Newman snuggles up to Jacob after he came home from the hospital Wednesday. The boy is able to speak clearly and use his arms, but he’s still working on the use of one hand. Newman says he has adapted well to his new life.

All appeared to be normal on Laughing Gull Lane on the morning of April 17. Mom Tracy Newman, 43, had gone off to her job as a certified nursing assistant and stepdad Joseph Newman, 50, was at his job in a warehouse at Frito-Lay.

The couple's son, 12-year-old Jacob Larson, was supposed to be getting ready to go to classes at Palm Harbor Middle School.

But he wasn't getting dressed. Or brushing his teeth for his usual 8:30 a.m. departure from the house in the Patty Ann Acres subdivision.

Instead, at some point between 7:40 and 11 a.m., he climbed into his parents' closet to get his mother's long-forgotten, 25-caliber, semiautomatic handgun.

Then, sitting on his bed, Jacob was peering down the barrel of when he accidently shot himself in the head.

The bullet entered the left side of his skull and exited through the top.

"The initial doctor did not expect him to make it through the night,'' Tracy Newman said.

But he did.

And when he emerged from the darkness, he was paralyzed from the waist down.

He may never walk again.

A fundraiser will take place today at the Ozona Pig to help pay for a $25,000, specially equipped 2007 Dodge Caravan van to carry him around and other expenses insurance doesn't cover, such as a shower chair.

"He was so excited about the van,'' said Newman. "He got to go places again.''

The payments are $450 a month and if she doesn't get some help, Tracy Newman, who had to quit her job to care for her son full time, doesn't know how she is going to come up with the money.

• • •

Jacob remembers bits and pieces of the day of the accident. His mom fills in the rest.

"It was my gun,'' she said. "It was wrapped up in a box in the back of the closet, wrapped in some paper. It was put inside of a box up on a shelf way in the back of the closet inside a piece of luggage. He must have been snooping.''

She said the gun was very old and was given to her by a man who has since died.

"He was the sweetest man,'' she said. "He was somebody I knew years ago. He would have been mortified (at what happened).''

Newman, who said she doesn't like guns, said her intention was to get rid of it somehow but couldn't just throw it in the trash. Then she all but forgot about it.

When Jacob found it, he brought it to his bedroom.

"I turned it around to look at the hole (barrel),'' he recalled, when it went off.

His stepfather found him on the floor at about 11:20 a.m.

"He heard music coming from Jake's room,'' Newman said. "He thought Jake might have left his TV on.''

He called 911 and then Newman.

"By the time I got home, they had put him in the ambulance,'' she said. "I remember talking to a female officer. I wanted to see my child. The guy in the ambulance said no. It was that bad. I saw his legs. They had blood on them. My whole body went cold.''

He was rushed to Palm Harbor Middle, his original destination that day, where a Bayflite helicopter was waiting to whisk him away.

At that moment, he would have been in gym class.

• • •

Before his injury, Jacob wasn't a very active child, his mom said. Although he did play football for one season, he seems to prefer video games.

He is fully aware that he may be forced to use a wheelchair, yet she said "he handles it very well.''

"I would still be mad but he doesn't really show that,'' Tracy Newman said.

"So far, he's pretty frustrated because his body isn't doing what his body used to do. When he wants to go to the bathroom, he (used to) get up and go. He shows signs of frustration over that.''

• • •

Jacob's head and eyes were extremely puffy after his third operation last week. After the accident, his brain was so swollen surgeons had removed half of Jacob's skull and froze it. They reattached it Aug. 19.

He was groggy from the antiseizure medication and has a tracheotomy tube to help him breathe. A smiley face his mom had drawn in purple ink doctors use to mark where they will make incisions remained on his right cheek days after the operation.

At dinner, he was served his favorite meal, macaroni and cheese, a cherry slushy, a Fruit Roll-Up and a can of Coke.

Jacob, who can speak well and use his arms but is still learning to use his right hand, asked his mom to help him eat but she lovingly refused, instead turning the meal into a therapy session.

"I will not feed him,'' she said. "He can feed himself. The occupational therapists would be very angry with me.''

A low-grade fever and seizures that made his face twitch kept him in the hospital longer than planned this week. He was discharged Wednesday and was happy to be back home with his dogs, Cricket and Mac.

• • •

Though a long road still lies ahead for Jacob, things are looking up for the Newman family.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office referred charges to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office, but it did not take any action, said Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Cecelia Barreda.

The gun is now in the hands of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Tracy Newman has spent almost every waking hour at her son's bedside. The vigils have been exhausting yet revealing.

"The past four months have been the absolute worst and absolute best of my life,'' she said. "I have never felt so much love in all my life. I'm talking about people I don't even know buying us groceries and bringing us dinner.''

Neighbors also built a ramp to the front door, painted Jacob's room, bought him new bedding and a new ceiling fan.

It's been an enlightening experience for Tracy Newman.

"The first thing I learned was how to let go and let God take over,'' she said. "It was a terrible accident, an enormous lesson. My options are to let it go and let God take over or fight the whole thing and then I'm not going to get anywhere.''

Eileen Schulte can be reached at schulte@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

how to help

A chance to help

A fundraiser for Jacob Larson will be held from 1 to 5 p.m. today at the Ozona Pig, 311 Orange St., Palm Harbor. There will be music, open jam, raffles and barbecue. For information, call (727) 723-5734. If you can't attend but would like to make a donation, a fund has been set up in Jacob's name at Wachovia Bank.

Palm Harbor boy accidentally shot in the head recovering slowly 08/28/09 [Last modified: Friday, August 28, 2009 8:39pm]

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