OREM More than a hundred community members cut their Thanksgiving weekend short to secretly finish a landscaping project for a local family whose 5-year-old son died in a tragic backyard accident.
On Nov. 2, Brett Harris was playing in the back yard of his parents' house near 400 South and 800 East in Orem, police said. At the time, landscaping work was being completed, and a 100-pound slide on the south side of the yard had been uprooted.
According to police reports, Brett Harris was swinging on a nylon rope attached to the slide when it tipped and landed on his neck. His mother, Laura Harris, and a landscaper found him unconscious and not breathing.
Brett's death has been difficult for the family to bear, Laura Harris said, but the community support has been incredible.
"We have been completely overwhelmed by the love and support," she said.
A few weeks ago, two close family friends, Nick and Andrea Crocket, concocted a plan to grade and lay sod on the Harris' property, install a new sprinkler system, add curbing, a fire pit, a patio and a memorial sand box in Brett's memory.
"We just want to help out," Andrea Crocket said. "We don't want (the back yard) to look like it did before Brett died."
The Crockets wanted to keep their plan a surprise, but they divulged the scheme to Steve Harris, Brett's father, and persuaded him to take the family to visit relatives in Idaho while they completed the work.
"I don't think my wife would let them do anything to the inside of the house without her here," he joked.
Fifteen minutes after the Harris family pulled out of the driveway Friday morning, throngs of volunteers descended and went to work Friday, Saturday and Monday, Andrea Crocket said.
"They came in droves," Andrea Crocket said. "I couldn't even guesstimate."
Nick Crocket said he was amazed so many people gave up time for holiday activities with family to come lend a hand.
"It restores your faith in mankind," he said.
The Orem High School wrestling team was among the ranks of volunteers. Though the team had a wrestling match scheduled for Tuesday, head coach John Coxson said it was important for them to participate.
"A lot of people in our community were affected by (Brett's death)," he said. "This is therapeutic."
The Crockets even managed to recruit businesses to pitch in supplies and labor. Willowood Turf sold its sod at contractors' pricing and even cut and delivered it on the same day. Mike Buhler, the landscaper who found Brett under the slide, lent his Bobcat, backhoe and dump truck free of charge. Jay Danklef, of Easy Edge, curbed the Harris' landscaping for free.
The volunteer crew finished the work minutes before the Harris family returned Monday evening. As Steve Harris pulled the minivan up to the house, Laura Harris clasped her hands to her mouth. She started to tear up and hugged her mother, Phebe Hawks, who came to welcome the family home.
"I love it! I love it!" she said to the group of volunteers who greeted her in the back yard. "I absolutely had no idea."
Laura Harris said Brett would have loved to see the back yard. Like any other 5-year-old child, he loved to jump on the trampoline and play in the sand box."Every time I look out the back door I will feel love," she said.
E-mail: [email protected]