Public Safety

An Iowa father ran over his 3-year-old with a lawn mower. Tate lived, but his story is not uncommon

3 Eastern Iowans killed or hurt this summer in the mishaps

Tate Manahl, 5, (left) sits with his brother, Cason, 9, and their baby sister, Faith. Tate was gravely injured two years ago when a riding lawn mower backed over him, cutting open his abdomen and almost severing both legs. (Photo courtesy of the Manahl family)
Tate Manahl, 5, (left) sits with his brother, Cason, 9, and their baby sister, Faith. Tate was gravely injured two years ago when a riding lawn mower backed over him, cutting open his abdomen and almost severing both legs. (Photo courtesy of the Manahl family)
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Ryan Manahl remembers the look of pain and terror in his son’s eyes as he stared up at his father from under the riding mower he was driving.

“It was horrific,” Manahl recalled.

It was early evening on Aug. 30, 2017, and Manahl was cutting the lawn at his family’s Cedar Falls home. His wife, Fonda, and their two boys, Cason, who was 7, and Tate, who was 3, left to run some errands, creating the perfect opportunity for Manahl to get some yard work done.

“Without my knowing, my wife and the boys had returned home and Tate comes running over to say hi to his dad,” he said. “At that moment, I was in reverse and looking over my right shoulder as I backed up and Tate came running up on my left side. I didn’t see him and I accidentally backed over him.”

Tate was trapped under the mower “from belly to toes,” he said.

An emergency call was made to 911 and neighbors ran to help. As they were moving the riding mower off Tate, it was clear the boy suffered severe, life-threatening injuries. His abdomen was sliced open, Manahl said, leaving his intestines exposed. Both his legs were almost completely severed.

The 3-year-old survived, but his story is hardly unique. So far this year alone, three people in Eastern Iowa have been seriously injured or killed in lawn mower mishaps.

Three accidents in Eastern Iowa

Most recently, a 17-year-old boy was killed July 22 near Cedar Rapids when a riding mower rolled over.

According to the Linn County Sheriff’s Office, Alexander W. Prochaska was mowing at a relative’s house in the 5600 block of E. Cemetery Road, between Cedar Rapids and Fairfax, when the mower overturned in a ditch, pinning him under it.

The other two incidents both happened in Fayette County.

Earlier in July, a 78-year-old Waucoma man was killed in a lawn mower rollover.

In June, a 3-year-old girl was seriously injured when a reversing lawn mower ran over her in Hawkeye.

“We don’t specifically track lawn mower accidents,” Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner said in an email. “But I can tell you that we respond to them infrequently, probably no more than one or two a year. ... Those that we have responded to have typically been rollover accidents because the operator drove them improperly on hillsides.”

A study published last year in the Journal of Public Health Reports found an estimated 51,151 people nationwide were injured between 2006 and 2013 while mowing the lawn. Of those, 12,243 — nearly a quarter — suffered an amputation.

And in 2015, the Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated 35,000 injuries related to riding lawn mowers were treated annually between 2012 and 2014. The commission also found an average of 90 deaths attributed to riding lawn mowers between 2008 and 2010.

Fatal mowing mishaps have several common patterns, according to the commission: the machine tipping over and pinning the driver; the victim falling under the machine or being run over; or the driver falling off or being thrown from the machine. Most children who are injured or killed by riding lawn mowers are run over.

Detection device could be on the market next year

“These accidents are not freak accidents, they are frequent accidents,” said John Brooks, owner and chief executive officer of Little Feet Safety Systems in Orlando, Fla.

Brooks said he was watching the TV news in 2013 when he learned of a 2-year-old girl named Ireland Nugent whose legs were severed when her father mistakenly backed over her in the driveway of their home north of Tampa.

That incident, Brooks said, flipped a switch inside him and he knew he had to somehow help the victims of mower mishaps and their families.

The idea for device that could help stop such tragedies came to him.

The device, he said, would warn those operating a riding mower or tractor or farm equipment when someone else is nearby — using technology to provide 360-degree perimeter protection. Brooks said he is hoping the device hits the market next year.

Tate’s injury inspires family to help others

It’s been two years since Tate suffered his injuries. The recovery process has been long and arduous, Manahl said. Having endured roughly 30 surgeries, fixators to stabilize healing bones and joints and a procedure to grow back 3 inches of bone that had been cut from one of Tate’s legs by the mower blades, Tate, who is now 5, has mostly recovered.

“Now he’s out, running around with his brother and friends playing and to anyone driving by or who didn’t know him, they wouldn’t have a clue that he’s been through so much,” Manahl said. “We’re just so lucky that he’s so strong. It was bad, but it could have been even worse. He’s a fighter.”

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The family since has formed a nonprofit called Tate’s Army Foundation that aims to raise money for victims of lawn mower mishaps and their families. The goal, Manahl said, is to help with medical expenses for children who have suffered similar incidents.

The foundation also advocates for mower safety and plans to lobby for more safety features.

“We’ve been manufacturing these riding mowers for probably 50 years, and nothing has changed,” Manahl said, “In cars, they added seat belts and then air bags and now there are all these sensors and cameras designed to prevent crashes. But in the lawn mower business, there’s been no change. Very few safety features have been added, and the ones that have are easily overridden. And that’s just sad, because all of these accidents are preventable.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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