Saturday, December 16, 2017
Public safety

Man who ran over son with mower says healing is possible

Brett Bainter had just missed a patch of grass in the back yard of his Orlando home, so he shifted his riding mower in reverse. As he backed up, he felt a bump.

Bainter looked over the side and, on that April day in 2004, he saw the image that has since defined his life: the bright blue eyes of his boy looking up at him.

His only child, Jake, was 3 at the time. Blades whirling at 200 mph mangled his right leg so badly that, years later, it would have to be amputated.

Thursday morning, Bainter saw a story on the news about Jerry Nugent, a man in Palm Harbor who had backed a riding mower over his daughter, Ireland, who is 2. Both her legs were severed just above her ankles.

Bainter doesn't claim to understand what Nugent is going through, and he has nothing profound to say to him. He only knows his own story of lingering guilt and self-loathing and brokenness. But he also knows things can get better.

Emergency workers called an extra ambulance for Bainter on that blistering spring day. His T-shirt and shorts were soaked in sweat and blood. A cold pack was tucked between his legs on the floor. Inside, it held his son's toes.

At the hospital, he laid on a gurney and wailed. He barely spoke for days. He wandered the halls at night because, when he tried to sleep, the boy's bright blue eyes stared up at him.

Jake came home after 28 days. He sometimes screamed through the night and needed morphine. Bainter played with his son, and tried to never cry in front of him, but he continued to erode. He struggled to back his truck out of the driveway. He often had to get out and look behind it — twice — before he pulled out. His wife, Jodi, began to care for two.

"I thought I was helping, but I wasn't," he said. "I was just there. My soul had left my body."

Doctors diagnosed Bainter with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. He went to psychiatrists and took pills. People told him it was an accident, but that just made him angry. He believed that what had happened was his fault, and everyone should know it.

Only if his son recovered, Bainter decided, could he ever begin to heal.

And now, Jake has. Or at least he has started to. In 2008, his leg was amputated and he got a prosthetic. Today he is 12, an avid fisherman and hunter. He is proud of himself. He is happy.

Tuesday was the nine-year anniversary of the accident. Father and son spent the day hunting turkeys in Texas. To some people, Jake might have seemed fine. But only his father saw him trip and fall in the woods.

For that, Bainter blames himself.

Still, both shot a turkey. And, Bainter proudly admits, Jake's was bigger.

Staff writer Jeff Klinkenberg and researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report.

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