Tommy Doucet and other family members are with John Harrison at the nation’s largest burn center in Augusta, Ga., the Joseph M. Still Burn Center. He was transferred to Augusta after being stabilized Sunday evening at a sister hospital in Jackson, where his legs had to be amputated.
“He’s got a long road,” said Tommy Doucet, who owns Tommy Doucet Motor Co. in Orange Grove.
John Harrison, 20, had taken his mother and her sisters out for a sail late Sunday afternoon and was parking a yacht club sailboat when the back stay, a cable that supports the mast, came in contact with an overhead power line. John Harrison was gripping the boat trailer when he was shocked.
The Gulfport Fire Department said he had third- and fourth-degree burns over at least 75 percent of his body.
A Mississippi Power spokesman said Thursday the company is investigating the accident and has no further comment other than to say, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the individual and the family.”
Shaw Matthews was pulling into the Gulfport harbor Sunday afternoon with his daughter and her friends when John Harrison was sailing out. There was no wind.
“I looked at him and said, ‘Boy, you’ve got your hands full,’” Matthews said. “He threw that big ol’ smile.”
John Harrison’s two brothers were in smaller boats, having match races.
Diligence pays off
John Harrison had recently begun working for Matthews at the Matthews Brothers Inc. marine yard in Pass Christian.
As a member of the yacht club, Matthews had watched John Harrison grow up. John Harrison, who had been a sailing instructor at the club, taught one of Matthews’ daughters to sail.
Over the years, Matthews kept his eye on John Harrison. “He just looked like a hard worker. Every time I saw him down at the yacht club, he was working on somebody’s boat.”
This past summer, Matthews and his brother, Tom, invited John Harrison to work at their marine yard. “He got our attention just through his diligence at the yacht club.”
When he first started work, John Harrison arrived a couple of mornings at 7:05 a.m. Shaw Matthews arrives ready to work at 7 a.m. sharp. Both men drove U.S. 90 from Gulfport to the yard. Matthews basically made it clear, in a lighthearted way, that he didn’t want to see John Harrison’s vehicle on their morning commute.
“If you’re ahead of me, you’re late for work,” Matthews told John Harrison. “If you’re behind me, you’re real, real late for work.”
From that day forward, John Harrison was at the yard when Matthews arrived. And always wore a smile.
“It was sincere,” Matthews said. “Every day was a good day for him.”
They have a 50-foot tugboat on the yard. Matthews let John Harrison run it.
“I think he really had his eye set on becoming a tugboat captain,” Matthews said. “I could tell he had a knack for it. He was very cautious.”
Help pours in
John Harrison and the Doucet family are well known and loved in Gulfport, and along the Coast. Thousands are praying for his recovery, and contributing to a GoFundMe.com account that’s raising money for medical expenses. By Thursday afternoon, the funding drive had raised more than $140,000 toward a $150,000 goal.
“They’re strong people and they’re a very cohesive family,” Matthews said. “They’re going to see this through. They will survive, but it’s traumatic. It really is.”