Bridger Hunt

LEHI — It looks like somebody took dozens of burning cigarettes butts to Craig Miller's face. There are blisters on his arms and right knee, and he might have lost some hearing.

But to Miller, those injuries don't matter. All attention is focused on 11-year-old Bridger Hunt, who was critically injured in the blast.

The little boy was in surgery again Monday, a surgery that began at 2:30 p.m. and was expected to stretch well into this morning.

Bridger's grandmother, Dyanne Richan-Casper, said the complex surgery was going well late Monday night. Doctors inserted four plates and several screws to repair Bridger's hip. They had to remove considerable muscle and tissue that was infected or had died, she said.

Doctors were then expected to take a working nerve from the back of Bridger's leg and wind it around to the front, where the nerves were destroyed. Finally, plastic surgeons were supposed to start filling the cavity carved by the bomb in his muscle and soft tissue.

Hospital spokeswoman Bonnie Midget said the family is hopeful that doctors will save Bridger's leg.

"Right now, nobody's even really thinking about Craig's injuries," said Miller's close friend and neighbor Leslie Topham. "Craig doesn't even think about Craig's injuries."

If anyone asks the 45-year-old father of three how he's doing, he tells them to just "keep praying for Bridger," Topham said.

That's what Miller's been doing since Thursday, when his homemade fireworks exploded, burning him and sending metal shards slicing through Bridger, who had been riding his bike in the Lehi neighborhood.

"I will accept my responsibilities," Miller told the Deseret News Monday. "It will never be enough. But I can never live with myself if I do not do all in my power (to help Bridger)."

After the explosion, Bridger was rushed by medical helicopter to Primary Children's Medical Center where he's been through nearly six surgeries, including the crucial one that began late Monday morning to determine the fate of his nearly severed left leg.

The firework blasted metal 30 feet toward Bridger and cut several arteries in his leg, broke bones and sliced through tissue, placing the young boy in grave danger of bleeding to death. Quick-thinking bystanders who applied pressure helped save the boy's life.

A piece of metal also slashed a nearby car tire, said Lehi Police Sgt. Sean Ferrell.

But no one knows why Miller, standing three feet from the device, was not hit by shrapnel.

Bridger's family holds no malice for Miller, calling the situation an accident and a mistake. They have asked that any emotion be put into prayers for their skateboard-loving son.

"I'm not angry," mother Mindy Carter-Shaw said. "I need everyone to have positive thoughts for Bridger."

And Topham said she hopes a few positive thoughts will make their way to Miller, too.

This is a man who raises and milks goats for children who are lactose-intolerant, she explained. On Christmas Eve, he's the one delivering cookies around the neighborhood where he's lived for nearly 15 years.

And on Thursday evening, he was only trying to entertain the neighborhood kids with what should have been a sparkling, smoking fountain, not near-deadly fireworks.

"That's all it was intended to be, just a fountain," Topham said about the 4-inch by 4-inch square mounted device. "The smoke and everything would go up, kids would be 'ooohing' and 'aaahing.' It wasn't even made to make a boom, just to blow smoke."

But no one knows what happened Thursday. Not even Miller, a professional welder.

"He just doesn't know what went wrong," Topham said. "No family man in their right mind is going to go out and light something that he thinks is going to explode and hurt somebody, and bring his own family out on the porch."

Miller's mother and his three children — including his 11-year-old son — were outside watching when the device exploded.

Lehi police detectives met with lawyers at the Utah County Attorney's Office on Monday to review the case and discuss potential charges, Deputy Utah County Attorney Craig Johnson said. He said they have also met with Bridger's family to weigh their concerns and input about what should happen.

Nothing Miller does will heal Bridger's leg. He knows that. And no amount of money or tears will restore Bridger's childhood dreams of being a pro skateboarder.

But he has vowed to do all he can to help the family.

"I'll never be able to live with myself unless I do everything in my power to make it right," Miller said.

He begged those who can to help with mounting medical bills by making a donation at any branch of a Zions Bank or Central Bank in the name of Bridger Nathaniel Hunt.

Bridger is in a medically induced coma but wakens several times a day to point to places that itch and to indicate pain level with a thumbs up or down.

Doctors believe he could be in the hospital for months, punctuated by numerous other surgeries. Gaining mobility again will itself be a lengthy process.

No one has yet speculated on a time line for Miller's healing.

"They're both going to pay for it for the rest of their lives," Topham said. "And Craig knows it."

Contributing: Leigh Dethman. Aaron Falk.

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