Look Out!

Accidents leave disabled woman and her dog afraid of heedless drivers


Barbara Baker gets a hug from Boomer as they both recover from their second frightening run-in with a careless driver.

Barbara Baker gets a hug from Boomer as they both recover from their second frightening run-in with a careless driver. Photo by Alexis Bechman. |

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Barbara Baker’s service dog, Boomer, looked up drearily and let out a large sigh, then settled his head back down on the cream carpet and waited.

“He’s bleeding internally,” Baker said nervously after studying Boomer from across the room of her second-floor home at Canal Senior Apartments.

“The veterinarian says he has stressed-related ulcers.”

Two weeks earlier, a vehicle violently struck Baker head-on in her motorized wheelchair, throwing her helplessly into the Beeline Highway.

When Baker came to, Boomer stood protectively overhead, his eyes locked on her.

Later, she learned he had taken the brunt of the blow, but refused to leave her side, even after help arrived.

It was the second time in a year a careless driver had hit Baker and Boomer.

And Baker is not alone. Ask any regular walker or bicyclist and they’ll offer up their own vehicle cataclysm tale.

“I have a lot of close calls,” Baker said. “People just aren’t looking.”

Police Chief Don Engler said it sounds simple, but drivers need to look both ways before pulling out onto a street, to check behind their vehicle before backing up and give walkers and bikers space when passing.

Too often, though, they never even realize they nearly struck someone, he said.

For Baker, thoughts of the wreck replay. She says she fears leaving the safety of her small complex.

“After this last accident, I am so scared,” she said. “I am worried that I will get hit again.”

Making matters worse, the woman that hit Baker allegedly told officers she didn’t think she had done anything wrong.

“She asked the officer, “Why am I getting a ticket? I didn’t see her,’” Baker said. “He said, ‘That is why you are getting a ticket.’”

It was a clear Thursday when the passenger car hit Baker. She had just gone to Walmart and was heading down the sidewalk near the Bashas’ parking lot.

As she approached the shopping center’s entrance, Baker stopped to make eye contact with a driver waiting to enter the highway. She said she always tries to make eye contact, to make sure they see her. Confident the woman had seen her, Baker proceeded to cross.

Looking the other way, the driver saw an opening and lurched forward to merge with traffic.

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Barbara Baker says she could not live independently without Boomer, but worries that he sustained internal injuries in a second accident in which a driver hit them.

The vehicle hit Baker and Boomer, the dog taking the brunt of the blow on the left. When Baker came to, she was lying on her side in the roadway, her crushed wheelchair still attached to her by the seat belt.

Baker says it is a miracle a vehicle did not run her over.

“I thank whoever it was on northbound 87 that did not hit me,” she said.

When several concerned motorists stopped, Baker couldn’t believe she found familiar faces among them, including her doctor’s nurse, a man from church and a supervisor from the nursing agency that assists her.

“I was so dazed and I hurt so bad,” she said.

The most familiar face of all was Boomer’s.

The dog has stood by Baker’s side since she rescued him from a Flagstaff humane society a year ago.

Baker stumbled on Boomer after calling around the state in a desperate attempt to find a dog that she could train to help with daily tasks. Two other dogs had previously not worked out.

A day later, Coconino County officials called to say they had a dog they thought might work. Although mangy and thin, the worker said there was something about the dog’s eyes.

“They told me I had to drive up and see his eyes,” she said.

When she got there, Boomer cowered in the corner of the cell, “shaking like a leaf.”

But they were right, there was something about the dog with which Baker instantly connected.

She took him home. Love, patience and the help of trainers Lori Chandler and Margie Mansell soon transformed Boomer into a working service dog.

The dog helps Baker with daily tasks. He lends his back so she can get in and out of bed, answers the front door for visitors, picks up items and even helps her get dressed, tugging at each pant leg.

He also alerts Baker when she is going to have a seizure.

Baker’s condition is progressive, the result of several bad accidents. In 2005, she fell off a roof and broke her back in half a dozen places. That put her in a wheelchair and nearly robbed her of a normal life.

But Boomer helped restore it.

“Without him, I couldn’t live independently,” she said. “The closeness you develop with a service dog is over and above what you have with a normal dog — he is my right hand.”

Not surprisingly, the only thing on Baker’s mind after the accident was Boomer.

“Everyone said he looked OK,” she said. “But I said, ‘Let me see him.’ And I watched him walk and I knew he was not OK.”

A couple of days later, Baker noticed blood in Boomer’s stool. A veterinarian confirmed he was bleeding internally.

Although he is expected to recover, Baker said Boomer will likely always have problems with his hips and stress.

Both are terrified to go back on the road.

A year before this wreck, Baker was crossing near the back of Sawmill Crossing when another woman backed into them.

The woman’s vehicle was covered in mud, blocking both her view out the back and Baker’s view of the car’s back-up lights.

Boomer was uninjured, but Baker strained her back.

“Both times these people didn’t see us,” she said. “It scares me to death to go back out there.”

Baker looked over to where Boomer slept. He looked up at her and walked to her side. Their eyes met — and they both felt reassured: To see and be seen.

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