Two days after his son's death, Michael Peterson reminisced for a moment about the day he helped welcome the child into the world.
His son was born at Modesto City Hospital (now Central Valley Specialty Hospital) with a healthy and loud cry, the Valley Home resident said Monday. When someone in the delivery room asked if a name had been chosen for the boy, Peterson quipped, "Earache."
"Eric?" the person asked.
"Close enough," Peterson replied, recalling the exchange that gave Eric Peterson his name.
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Saturday, Michael Peterson said goodbye to his son, five years after Eric was badly hurt in an Oct. 21 crash in south Salt Lake City, Utah. "It was exactly five years, to the day, of his accident," Peterson said. "Five years, 13 and a half hours."
That 2012 day, Eric Peterson was at a stoplight when a drunk driver in a stolen police car slammed into his Mitsubishi Eclipse, slamming the car into a tree. "Peterson suffered severe head trauma, a broken femur and shoulder blade, and other injuries," Modesto Bee columnist Jeff Jardine wrote in June 2014. "He cannot walk because both feet curl inward. His communication skills are limited."
Jardine wrote then and later about Eric Peterson becoming a ward of the state of Utah after the crash — in essence, a prisoner in a rehab hospital, his father said. About efforts to "spring him" from Utah and his desire to return to the Oakdale area. (Eric left the Valley to work in the lab of a mining operation in Elko, Nev. That October, he traveled to Salt Lake City to visit his girlfriend.) And about his return home in December 2016.
His death did not come at the end of steadily failing health, Michael Peterson said. It was sudden and unexpected.
Yes, Eric's family was told his life expectancy was shortened by the trauma of the crash. Yes, Eric was feeling lonely because friends weren't visiting, his dad said.
But he was preparing for a brighter future. He'd just had some dental fillings done and got a couple of temporary crowns. He had new eyeglasses. He had his right foot fused in March and his left foot just last week. "We were hoping by this time next year, he would be walking," Michael Peterson said. "... He was gung ho, he was ready, he was a fighter."
It may have been a blood clot in his lung that killed Eric, his father said. "I called 911 and was talking with the dispatcher when he took his last breath." The family expects to know more when medical reports are done later this week.
Peterson said a celebration of life will be held for Eric in about two weeks. When determined, the time and place will be posted on the Facebook page "One Man's Wish."
Again thinking back on Eric's birth, Peterson said his crying son fell quiet "the minute they put him in my arms." Saturday, it was Peterson's turn to "cry and bawl," he said.
In time, he knows he'll be all right. "I thought we lost him five years ago, but he came back from the crash and gave me this time to make sure I was OK with this. I'm OK.
"He was my one and only child. We were bonded. He was my buddy and my friend, and I got to be his father now and then."