WEST HAVEN — Cooper Bacon looked at the giant tow truck and talked about his work.
“I’m a heavy recovery specialist,” Bacon said to a visitor Tuesday at Stauffer’s Towing. “I love it. There’s nothing better to me.”
The West Haven native spoke in the present tense. But his tow truck days are all in the past.
At Willard Bay State Park on July 7, 2014, Bacon crawled beneath a broken-down RV to disconnect the driveline so he could attach the vehicle to his tow truck.
Voltage coursed through his body and altered his life.
“I’m unfortunately not able to work anymore,” said Bacon, who just turned 26. “I’m not able to drive anymore.”
He paused a long time before he could resume talking about the ordeal.
The electricity caused burns, seriously damaged his shoulder and “fried” his nervous system, Bacon said.
He can’t lift his arm higher than shoulder level. He suffers heart palpitations and has a seizure disorder.
“I have short-term memory loss,” he said. “I can’t remember what pills I took this morning.”
Medical reports from the University of Utah burn unit said Bacon lost consciousness for about 45 seconds and was pulled out from under the RV, not breathing. He regained consciousness and had trouble seeing, was confused and vomited, then blacked out again for 15 seconds.
After a stay in the burn unit and reconstructive shoulder surgery, Bacon returned to West Haven. But everything was different.
The medical bills have piled up close to $200,000.
“I lost my house, my dog and my car,” Bacon said.
He’s grateful for Kurt Stauffer, the tow company owner.
“I’ve been around him my whole life,” Bacon said of Stauffer, who employed Bacon’s father for 15 years.
Stauffer opened a Lyft account and is paying for a by-the-month hotel room for him, Bacon said.
Today, Bacon is awaiting the outcome of lawsuits filed on his behalf by Ogden attorney Emily Swenson.
The first suit, filed in 2016 in 1st District Court in Brigham City and later transferred to U.S. District Court, blames Rocky Mountain Power and its parent company, PacifiCorp. The suit alleges Rocky Mountain failed to protect people from electrostatic discharge from its overhead 345-kilovolt major transmission lines at the Willard Bay north gate, where the shock incident occurred.
The suit originally also targeted the state departments of natural resources and transportation for their role in the alleged negligence in the gate area. But those defendants were dismissed from the case after the state argued they were protected by governmental immunity and that Bacon’s attorneys missed a statutory deadline to file the complaint against them.
A second suit, filed by Swenson in July this year, accuses the owners of the RV, a West Valley City couple, of negligence. In their answer to the suit, the couple turned the blame on Rocky Mountain Power and the state agencies.
What’s more, said Bacon and Swenson, people are still receiving electric shocks around the park’s north gate.
Bacon said he just got two messages on Facebook from people who said they had suffered shocks around the gate area.
“I just want to warn other people,” Bacon said. “I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through what I’ve gone through. “It’s terrible.”
Since the injury, Bacon has undergone physical and psychological therapies.
A three-month post traumatic stress disorder treatment program last spring helped Bacon somewhat, he said.
Before, “I couldn’t sleep,” he said. “I would go a week without sleeping. Every time I fell asleep I would relive the whole thing.”
He said his girlfriend told him he “kept yelling, ‘I don’t want to die.’”