LUTZ — Robby Haines had turned his life around. His struggles with drugs were behind him, and he was looking toward the future.
"He was doing very well," said his mother, Nancy Haines. "He met a girl. He was talking about going back to school. I had my son back."
But on Nov. 15, Mr. Haines was riding his bicycle down Livingston Avenue, just a couple of blocks from the Lutz home he shared with his mother, when he was struck by a car. After a few days on life support, doctors at St. Joseph's Hospital determined there was no hope. Mr. Haines died Nov. 19. He was just 10 days shy of his 28th birthday.
He had epilepsy, so his life had never been typical. His condition made it difficult for him to hold a job, and prevented him from driving a car.
"He got a job at Taco Bell but he had a seizure while he was at work," his mother said. "You have to be seizure-free for six months to even apply for a driver's license, and he never even made that. Sometimes he would have several seizures a month."
Medication helped but didn't prevent his grand mal seizures, Nancy Haines said.
He tried his best to live a normal life. He graduated from Land O'Lakes High School and even played sports there. He took occasional work with a landscaping company, but his epilepsy made work difficult because he couldn't safely operate some machinery.
Still, with the help of his parents, he led a contented life and had a generally positive outlook.
That changed five years ago when his father died after contracting an infection from a wound.
"His father was his best friend," Nancy Haines said. "Robby was never the same after that."
Robby Haines started hanging around with a different set of people and started doing hard drugs. His drug use got so bad that his mother had him committed under the Marchman Act, a state law that allows for involuntary assessment or treatment of addicts. Mr. Haines spent six months at an in-patient recovery center. He came home about 10 months ago.
"He came out a wonderful boy," his mother said.
Friends also noticed the change in Mr. Haines.
"Robby was a young man who lived much of his youth in turmoil, family friend Justin Stock wrote on his own Facebook page. "No matter the circumstance, Nancy has always stood by her son with unwavering faith. In recent time, that faith seemed to have paid dividends as Robby had turned over a new leaf and was finally on the straight and narrow."
The day of the crash, some witnesses reported that Mr. Haines had tried to make a U-turn and steered into oncoming traffic. His family has talked to other witnesses and believes that isn't exactly correct.
"He rode his bicycle on that same path on a daily basis," said his sister, L'Erin Haines. "He wouldn't have just made a U-turn. Based on what we've heard, we're virtually certain he had a seizure. When he had a seizure, he would lean to the left or right."
A neighbor passed the scene shortly afterward and recognized Mr. Haines' bicycle lying in the street. By the time Nancy Haines got there, her son had been taken to the hospital. A police officer said he couldn't give her any information about his condition.
That gave her a bad feeling, she said, but it wasn't until later that she imagined the worst.
"It was when they had me sign the do-not-resuscitate papers," Nancy Haines said. "That's when I knew. I thought, 'That's my son. That's my son. That's my baby.' "
Marty Clear writes life stories about area residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at [email protected]