SEBRING - A 2-year-old toddler remained in critical but stable condition Thursday after his mother accidentally backed a lawn mower over his leg Wednesday, according to the Highlands County Sheriff's Office.
Anthony Meza was riding a bike while his mother Maria Isabel Huerto Bello, 23, was mowing, said sheriff's office spokeswoman Nell Hays, in a news release.
The toddler underwent more surgery Thursday at Tampa General Hospital where doctors were trying to save his leg, Hays added.
Parents Bello and Guillermo Meza Cruz were by his side at the hospital while other family members in the Lake Placid area are taking care of brother, Angel, and providing needed emotional support, Hays added.
"The investigation has revealed no signs of neglect or criminal intent in this incident. Findings by the detective assigned to the case indicate this is a tragic accident, nothing more," Hays said.
Sheriff Susan Benton said: "We are all wishing the family and especially Anthony our best in his recovery and the issues they will be facing over the next several weeks."
The toddler's accident is not isolated.
When it comes to the more than 9,000 injuries children get from lawnmower accidents nationwide, it's the operator, not the machine, that is responsible, Patrick Bray said.
"They're (the operator) not doing what they're supposed to be doing and the poor child has to suffer for it," said Bray, who works with Danny's Small Engine Repairs, which deals with lawnmowers.
The accident is one of several in the Southwest Florida area during the past few months.
Hays said parents need to be vigilant in supervising their children.
"In general, it's a matter of making sure you have your children in a location where they are not going to interact with a power tool," Hays said.
But that doesn't mean supervision isn't needed beyond that, she said, because children often don't stay in one spot.
"Parents need to realize their children need to be supervised," she said. "They don't know enough to be cognizant of what's going on around them."
Bray said he takes precautions when he mows his yard.
"When I'm cutting my yard, no one is outside in the yard," he said. "I don't leave the children or the dogs out."
Jennie Nickerson, owner of Couture's Garden Center, said she was surprised about the accident because most lawnmowers have safety switches. Generally, when a mower is being driven backward, a safety switch prevents the blades from running.
Nickerson said people should read the safety manuals they receive with their lawnmowers and "make sure no one is around when you're cutting grass."
Although the lawnmowers have safety switches, Bray said, some people disconnect the safety switch.
Regardless of the current safety measures, the tragedy of children being injured by lawnmowers apparently happens all too often.
In April, a father in Pinellas County was operating his riding mower when his two-year-old daughter ran behind him, according to a St. Petersburg Tribune article. The mother motioned to the father, who misinterpreted that, and backed up the mower, running over the girl and severing her legs, the article said.
Three months later, the operator of a mower ran over the foot of a 3-year-old girl in Bokeelia in Lee County, according to a Bradenton Herald article. That same month, a father ran over the leg of his 4-year-old daughter in Hardee County, the article said.
According to an article on About.com, those accidents are not confined to Florida.
Other recent accidents, according to the site, have included:
A 4-year-old boy in Texarkana, Texas, who lost three fingers and suffered a severe leg injury when he tried to jump over a mower driven by his sister.
A 9-year-old girl in Jarrettesville, Md., had her foot injured when her father backed a mower onto her foot.
A 5-year-old in Michigan died after being run over by a riding mower by one of her parents, who did not realize she was there.
Nationwide, Children's Hospital in Ohio states that more than 9,400 young people 20 years old and younger are treated in emergency rooms each year and that most of the injured are boys. One in four of those is a child younger than 6, the web site states.
Healthy Children.Org, which is connected with the American Academy of Pediatrics, advises that children should be at least 12 before operating a push mower and 16 before driving a riding mower.
Before mowing the lawn, parents should "make sure that children are indoors or at a safe distance well away from the area you plan to mow."
Don Brewington, who owns a lawn service in Highlands County, said it's all common sense.
"At the end of the day it's an operator's responsibility," he said. "Children should never be in the vicinity (of a mower)," he said.
Lawnmowers should not be operated without making sure its safe to do so and "never mow toward a vehicle or a house or a road," he said.
He said before mowing a lawn, he always scouts a yard for debris that could become projectiles, he said.
Lawn mower operators should never back up without looking and they should always be vigilant, he said.