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Pippi Mayfield, Forum Communications Co., Published December 21 2009

Detroit Lakes man blinded in bar fight tells his story in e-book

A Detroit Lakes, Minn., man has shared in a new e-book his lifelong struggles since he was struck down by a car 25 years ago while trying to break up a fight.

Gerald Johnson was only 21 on Sept. 15, 1984, when he stepped in to break up a fight outside a bar in Elizabeth, Minn., and ended up being run over by a car.

That night started as a celebration, Johnson said. He was serving as an usher in the wedding of two friends, and after rehearsal the group drove to Elizabeth from Fergus Falls for some drinks.

There was an altercation in the bar, and it moved outside. That’s when Johnson stepped in to break up the fight and was hit by a car.

Johnson spent 45 days in a coma and 45 days recovering and attending therapy before returning home from the hospital.

He lost his eyesight and also has had to deal with a lost sense of smell, hearing loss, regaining his balance, recurring seizures and depression.

“I’ve had a lot of ups and downs over the years,” he said.

But, at the advice of his psychologist, he decided not only to revisit the night of the accident, but to write it down. Instead of a simple journal, he decided to write an autobiography, and he was assisted by another local man, Bill Mohn.

Mohn said at the time, he was a stay-at-home dad, and it was a good fit to help with the book.

Although Johnson agreed with his therapist that it would be tough to revisit, he started doing some research. He contacted the Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Office, his attorney in Fergus Falls, and others involved in the accident, which started as a bar fight.

His mom, Janet, started reading the documents to him.

“It was very good,” Johnson said. “At times, my mom would stop and try to control herself. ‘Do you want me to continue?’ ”

Johnson said because of the coma he didn’t remember much about that night. Over the years, he had heard a variety of stories from those involved, but doing the research, he learned the facts about that night.

Since his accident, four people from that night have died. Two of the men involved chose not to talk with Johnson about what happened, but he let them know he was going forward with the book.

To get it all down, Johnson would record on cassette his memories and stories. Mohn said he started with six or seven tapes, which he listened to and took notes.

Since some of the details remained vague, Mohn said he had to draw more information out of Johnson.

“I had to get inside his mind,” he said. “A few times we would get together and I’d ask him some more questions.”

Eventually, Mohn finished a copy of the book he was happy with and they turned to a self-publishing Web site on the Internet.

The e-book is titled “Peace of Mind: The Story of Gerald Johnson.” The book costs $5 to download at www.lulu.com.

Johnson said that while reliving that night was difficult, he’s glad he did it and he’s happy to be able to share his story of triumph with others.

Pippi Mayfield is a reporter at the Detroit Lakes Tribune, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.