Nothing had prepared them for losing him

Published May 31, 2007

HUDSON - Twenty-nine years as a rescue worker couldn't prepare Richard Wilke for this call.

His son Jon Wilke had been in an ATV accident. The 18-year-old had suffered severe head injuries and was being flown to Bayfront Medical Center.

The fire truck Wilke drives for Pasco County Fire Rescue was on another call May 23 when he learned of the wreck.

Normally, he would have been first on the scene.

Wilke left the scene he was working - he doesn't even remember today what it was - and headed off to Bishop Larkin to meet Jon. He beat the helicopter by a few minutes.

He looked over Jon and remembers how well coworkers had cared for his son. Wilke cleaned some dirt from Jon's hair and took his blood pressure.

It was very high.

"He was in trouble bad and I knew it, " Wilke said. "That's usually a sign you've busted your head up bad."

Jon, one of Wilke's five children, died Sunday. He was entering his senior year at Hudson High and wanted to be a mechanic.

"One thing I can always remember him telling me was he would never want a quadrunner because quadrunners are for girls, " Wilke said. "Guys rode motorcycles and girls rode quadrunners."

Another thing Wilke recalled was how Jon always fought to be first. One account of the accident Wilke said he heard had Jon racing his friends, trying to lead the way.

"That was Jon, " Wilke said.

The helicopter carried Jon away. Wilke gathered wife Margaret - from whom he has been separated since August - and Jon's identical twin, Ed.

Wilke isn't clear on the time of events in the hospital, although he recalls some significant moments.

Jon was sedated because each time they tried to wake him he started to fight.

The injuries seemed minimal to Wilke - two small hematomas on Jon's brain, a crack in his skull and a cut on the back of his head that was repaired with one stitch.

The family stayed with Jon as he was taken off medication.

They talked to Jon. He didn't fight this time. They gave Jon some painful stimuli to force a reaction.

"He brought his hands up, grabbed our hand and pushed our hand away, " Wilke said. "They said that was spectacular."

But Jon took a turn for the worse. The medical staff put Jon on experimental drugs, Wilke said.

"He crashed hard, " Wilke said. "We never got him back."

Margaret, along with their daughter Dana, had stayed throughout the ordeal until Jon died Sunday.

Wilke and Ed struggled seeing Jon in a hospital bed with tubes connecting him to machines.

"I've been in this business 29 years, " Wilke said. "I've seen things people couldn't imagine. Just looking at him in that bed with all those tubes, I couldn't do it."

When doctors told the family Jon could not be saved, they agreed to donate his organs. But the medicine had taken such a toll, they couldn't be saved.

"Jon would have wanted to help someone out, he always did, " Wilke said. "He was always cutting someone's grass or whatever. He never got that chance."

Viewing will be from 2 to 4 and 5 to 7 p.m. today at Dobies Funeral Home, 9944 Hudson Ave. The funeral will start at 7 p.m.

Izzy Gould can be reached at igould@tampabay.com or 727 580-5315.