Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
PROVO — Craig Miller sold his home, spent 21 days in jail and now lives out of an old RV.
But he knows it could be worse.
He could be 12 years old, relearning how to walk.
In October, Miller pleaded guilty to possessing explosive parts and reckless endangerment for the fireworks explosion on July 24 that nearly killed 11-year-old Bridger Hunt, who had been riding his bike nearby.
In December, Miller was sentenced to jail amid pleas for leniency from Bridger's mom, Mindy Carter-Shaw, who has continually said she holds no malice for Miller.
And in a quasi-conclusion Friday, Miller was ordered to pay $10,800 as restitution to Bridger's family, whose hospital bills reach $335,301.67.
Considering the huge amount, $300 a month doesn't seem like much, but it's literally all Miller has.
"He's doing OK," Miller's attorney, Mark Ethington, said after the restitution hearing in 4th District Court. "It's not the best of circumstances, but he's optimistic it will work out."
Times are rough, but Miller knows they're always going to be tougher for Bridger.
A monthly payment doesn't quite equate with lifelong nerve pain and going to junior high school in a wheelchair.
"It's been stated that it was fortunate for me that I didn't get hurt, and I was about 3 feet from the device," Miller told Judge Fred Howard during his sentencing in December. "It's not fortunate; I wish I would have died. I hurt a child by my actions."
Miller spent 21 days in the Utah County Jail and was ordered to spend 159 days on the jail's ankle GPS system; however, Howard released him as of March 15, so he can focus all his money toward restitution, not GPS costs.
The $10,800 represents the out-of-pocket costs for Bridger's family not covered by Medicaid.
The judge and attorneys considered Miller's ability to pay, which would have been nearly impossible had the entire amount been imposed, said prosecutor John Nielsen.
However, a review was scheduled in nine months to reevaluate the case and Miller's financial status, and more restitution could be ordered, Nielsen said.
After the accident, Bridger spent weeks in the hospital trying to stay alive, then months trying to regain feeling in his leg.
Now, almost six months later, Bridger, 12, is walking, with help, during physical therapy. He's also attending half-days of seventh grade five days a week at Orem Junior High School.
"He's a remarkable child," said his grandmother Dyanne Richan-Casper after the hearing. "He's in a lot of pain because of nerve damage, but he tries to walk, and he falls. And we cry, but he doesn't."
Bridger has developed brittle bone disease due to loss of blood and oxygen to his limbs during his recovery process. A mere bump can break a bone.
But that doesn't stop him from trying to keep up with his two young uncles and his friends, Richan-Casper said.
"I anticipate he'll be in a wheelchair for long distances, but I think in the future he will be walking," Carter-Shaw said.
But such physical progress comes with a cost: Carter-Shaw can't work because she's devoted to Bridger's care full time.
"Financially, it's hard," she said. "Things right now are hard. For several months we (haven't had) income."
Although Medicaid paid for most of the hospital bills, it doesn't pay for physical therapy or pain medications, Richan-Casper said.
It's also possible that because the accident was associated with a crime, Carter-Shaw will be required to pay Medicaid back, attorneys said. Details will be worked out with Carter-Shaw's and Medicaid's attorneys.
If required, repayment may come from the $30,000 equity from Miller's home and a $100,000 homeowners policy of Miller's that has already been set aside for a civil case, Ethington said.
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