'I had to make the phone call you never want to make' - Farmer describes moment son (8) was left fighting for his life after accident
A farmer has recalled the moment of horror as he watched his eight-year-old son fall from his tractor in an accident that left him fighting for his life.
Wallace Gregg said that he wasn’t aware that the legal age for children to travel in tractors was 13 when the accident happened at his farm on the Old Frosses Road near Cloughmills in Antrim last October.
The father-of-four said that his two sons, Simon (5) and James (now 9) were enjoying the first day of their Halloween half-term break when he decided to take them out in his tractor as he drove it to a nearby mechanic.
Simon was sitting beside his father in the Massey Ferguson 5470 tractor while James stood in front of Simon with his back to the nearside cab door.
As they were driving down a bumpy road, James stumbled in the cab and fell against the door onto the road below.
Wallace explained: “We hit a bumpy bit in the road and at that stage, I thought everything was fine. There was nothing wrong here. James sort of stumbled against the door. I don’t know whether the door wasn’t snibbed right or if he reached out and steadied himself on the handle of the door and accidentally opened the latch but he fell out.
“You may think you would do things differently but James was out of the tractor and had fallen before I even realised what was happening. So obviously I stopped the tractor as quick as possible. James was lying semi conscious on the side of the road and I rang for an ambulance straight away.”
He said he then had to make a “phone call you never want to make” to his wife Joan to tell her that James had been in an accident.
James suffered a double fracture of the skull was was put into an induced coma and spent a night in intensive care. He did not need surgery but spent eight days in the Royal Victoria Hospital receiving treatment for his injuries.
“Farmers feel proud that their boys or their family are interested in the farm but when I was sitting beside that hospital bed in intensive care at 2 o’clock in the morning, I didn’t feel proud at all.
"I felt this was my fault - I shouldn’t have had him in the tractor or I should have grabbed him. But it’s too late. You can’t do that. An accident happens in the blink of an eye and after that you have to face up to it and live with the consequences,” Wallace said.
James has now made a full recovery from the fall but Wallace said they were “very lucky given the seriousness of the accident”.
- Read more: Leading figure in Irish farming Rodney Cox has a few words of wisdom for the country's farmers
- Read more: Farm accident victims remembered
The farmer is speaking out about the accident to highlight the dangers of having children on farms during Farm Safety Week.
“I think it’s human nature that people tend to think ‘It will never happen to me’”, he said.
“When I left the yard that day with the boys in the tractor. I had their company and they wanted to be with their father on the farm. Things don’t get much better than that. We were driving down the road and chatting away and laughing away.”
He admits that he wasn’t aware of the laws on having children in the tractor with him when James fell.
He said: “After the accident, I have since learned that the legal age for children to be allowed in tractors is 13 and over. Before the accident, I thought it was fine to have the boys in the tractor. I thought it wouldn’t happen to me but tractors being tractors, they aren’t like cars.
"There are no seatbelts. If you have an accident and there’s a child in that tractor, it can have very serious consequences. The one thing I have learned is don’t have the children in the tractor.”
The Farm Safety Foundation’s Stephanie Berkeley said: “This is a story that many farmers across the UK and Ireland can empathise with. It is something that many farmers do and have done for centuries but Wallace would be the first to advise people to really think twice and use your common sense when dealing with children on the farm.
"People often believe that farm children understand farm risks, but most children who are hurt in farm incidents are family members. A few straightforward steps, and proper supervision of children, will reduce these risks.
“Wallace is a very brave father to share his experience with us. Taking a ride on a tractor, combine or an ATV seems exciting to many children, but it is just not safe. Sometimes parents will say, “Well, my children always rode with me and nothing bad ever happened to them.”
"But year after year, we see life changing injuries to children from farm vehicles, and no parent ever thinks it will be their child.”