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Family of brain-damaged man hit by stolen police vehicle calls for city to help

Published: Thursday, Jan. 3 2013 6:17 p.m. MST

"Nothing against the nursing care facility, but I do believe there's more out there for Eric. And with his insurance, they only pay so much," Naujokaitis said. "I feel Eric needs more therapy. The more therapy that he has, the more stimulation. I feel that's going to bring Eric around. With the brain stem damage and the brain damage, it's a waiting process. But I also feel, what I've seen with Eric, the more therapy that Eric receives the more he comes around, the more responsive he is."

Dack is more direct with her comments. "This is not the place that Eric should be. I'm afraid he is there to die," she said.

The family also believes South Salt Lake should help pay part of Peterson's medical expenses so he can receive better treatment.

"As a family, we feel like South Salt Lake should be stepping up. We feel there is a lot of negligence on the police side," Naujokaitis said.

The negligence, the family claims, came from police not taking enough steps to prevent an allegedly intoxicated man from getting into a police vehicle and driving off. Police referred questions Thursday to the city attorney's office, which did not return calls.

The family said a civil lawsuit over the incident was pending.

The police vehicle was stolen from the Flying J at 2025 S. 900 West about 3 a.m. that day. Investigators said the officer exited the cafe and unlocked the vehicle using a key fob authentication device.

The vehicle's key was already in the ignition when Cooke allegedly hopped in and sped off. Police crews pursued him when the vehicle crashed into Peterson's vehicle about 3:12 a.m.

Because of finances, Naujokaitis is also struggling just to see her son. She lives in California but is staying in Utah to be close to him. She does not have a car and can barely afford bus tokens and the low-rent living facilities provided by the hospital.

"It's been really difficult for me, just financially, mentally. There's a lot that goes on inside my head that gets scrambled and just trying to figure it out. Sometimes I have a difficult time with that," Naujokaitis said. "I'll be walking down the road and see somebody jogging or see someone that looks like Eric's stature, and it's very difficult because there was so much he wanted to give to life and to people."

Peterson, born in California, has two sisters and a brother. He was working at a mine in Elko, Nev., at the time of the accident.

"He loved his job, and people just loved him at work. He'd walk in and he'd make everyone smile," his mother said. "He just loved people. He loved his family."

Before his accident, Peterson and King had planned to take a trip to California to see his new niece. Peterson worked five days on at the mine and then had five days off, which he typically used to drive to Salt Lake City to see his girlfriend.

Peterson's mother said King is a "strong woman" who has continued to visit her son at the care facility while still being able to collect herself enough to take final exams at school.

A fund has been set up for Peterson at all Wells Fargo locations under the full name Eric Michael Peterson.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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