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Gerald Johnson

Bar fight 25 years ago left man blind

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It was Sept. 15, 1984, when Gerald Johnson's eyesight was lost during an accident.

"It's been 25 years," he said, "since I was stuck down as a pedestrian in Elizabeth, Minnesota."

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Since then, besides his blindness, he has dealt with a lost sense of smell, hearing loss, regaining his balance, reoccurring 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 to not only revisit the night of the accident, but to write it down. Instead of a simple journal, he has written an autobiography, with the assistance of Bill Mohn, about his life story.

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 contacted 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 that after 45 days in a coma, he only remembered so much of what had happened. He heard a variety of stories from those involved. Doing the research, he learned the truth about that night.

"I need to go through and get all this out," he confided.

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. The stories were in no particular order, so it made it more challenging for Mohn to get a story down.

He said he ended up with about 30 pages of legal pad notes, which he color coded to organize.

"I started to see patterns emerge in his life story," he said.

So, he organized the color coded notes into chronological time periods.

"It was the best way I could figure out to make it work," Mohn said.

So with some research, cassette tapes and creative challenges to fill in the gaps, the book came to fruition.

That night 25 years ago started as a celebration. Johnson, who was 21 at the time, was serving as an usher in the wedding of two friends. After rehearsal, it was a Friday night, the group drove to Elizabeth from Fergus Falls for some drinks.

There was an altercation in the bar, and it moved outside. Johnson, stepping in to break up the fight, was hit by a car. In November of 2006, he met with the driver of that car.

"He regrets his participation in that night," Johnson said.

And although he told the man he has forgiven him, it's not likely he'll forget. Johnson said thought that he had to move on or he'd be eaten up inside.

"It's hard to forget. I wake up the same way every morning.

"We had a nice talk. I told the driver thanks for coming out and I want to hear your side of it," he said of the meeting.

A former friendship has sparked again after meeting with an old co-worker that Johnson was always told started the altercation in the first place. In fact, it was one of the two men that wouldn't talk to him that started it.

"My old co-worker and I have buried the hatchet and become friends again," he said.

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

He said reliving the incident "was very painful" but it helped him as well. "I finally got my peace of mind out of it."

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. A few times we would get together and I'd ask him some more questions," Mohn said.

Once Mohn had a copy he was happy with, he turned it over to his mother-in-law, who is a former copy editor.

"She tightened things up."

When it came time for publishing, hard cover and paperback books were expensive, and Johnson said, "I had no idea the best way to try this project out."

So with the popularity of self-publishing and the availability of the Internet, the ebook is titled "Peace of Mind: The Story of Gerald Johnson." The book is $5 to download at www.lulu.com.

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