Peyton McCaughey still puts on his baseball uniform and cleats, but he has to sit on the bench for the game.
The 10-year-old is sidelined from much of what used to be his life.
Last August, just before his birthday, McCaughey was poisoned by a pesticide used to fumigate his family’s Palm City, Florida home.
The family says Terminix and a subcontractor called Sunland Pest Control, which has since shut down, botched a fumigation at their home. They say doctors told them the pesticides have caused Peyton brain damage and an unpredictable recovery.
“To see your child running around on a Sunday and the next night … with all those wires and things down his throat, it was horrible. It was like a nightmare,” his mom, Lori McCaughey told CNN in March.
It was the second time in a year that a Terminix job went terribly wrong. Just six months before McCaughey’s poisoning, a Delaware family on vacation in the U.S. Virgin Islands fell horribly ill after methyl bromide was improperly sprayed in an adjacent vacation home without warning. That family suffered severe neurological injuries that keep them from having full control of their bodies. In the St. John’s case, investigators say a Terminix employee was illegally importing a pesticide onto the island and using it to spray for a tropical beetle.
‘Your son’s been poisoned’
In the McCaughey incident, a Florida Department of Agriculture investigation found that the subcontractor, Sunland, had broken several rules. The family says Terminix should have done a more thorough job checking the background of those it hires.
Carl and Lori McCaughey called Terminix for a drywood termite problem because it’s one of the largest pest-control companies around, with name recognition and a reputable brand.
But on the day of the fumigation a subcontractor, not Terminix, came out for the job. Sunland Pest Control was run out of a garage in South Bay, Florida. Its owner, Grenale Williams, later said in a deposition that he had done hundreds of jobs for Terminix.
At the McCaugheys, Williams left a notice on the front door, saying it was safe for the family to return home. But almost immediately, they began feeling ill.
“Peyton threw up a couple times that night,” Lori McCaughey said. “It wasn’t until the morning where he started to get confused really. He said something that didn’t make sense. … I even called poison control at that time and asked them if it could be due to the fumigation and she said, ‘No, it sounds like he’s just dehydrated,’ … and then it just kind of deteriorated from there.”
Things got progressively worse. When Peyton started to become delirious, they took him to an urgent care clinic, where the doctor delivered horrifying news.
“He immediately told us your son’s been poisoned,” Carl McCaughey said.
Faulty devices to blame?
Peyton ended up spending three weeks in the hospital. His family says doctors told them he was suffering from severe brain damage caused by exposure to sulfuryl fluoride — the pesticide used to fumigate his home.
“His arms would fly around. They had to pad the bed. His head was going back and forth, non-stop,” his mother said.
“His head’s going side to side, at times his tongue is hanging out of his mouth, when the doctor tells you that’s as good as it’s going to get,” said his father, pausing to gain his composure.
It turns out Williams gave the all clear for the family to return home without properly checking to see if the air was safe, according to a Florida Department of Agriculture investigation.
According to the investigation, Williams knew his air-quality devices “should not be used since they did not work.”
In court papers, Terminix denies any responsibility, instead putting the blame on Sunland.
In a statement, Terminix said: “We remain committed to performing all work we undertake in a way that is safe for our customers, employees and the public.”
The Terminix employee who hired Sunland was also deposed in the case, but his deposition isn’t yet part of the public record.
But the family says they blame Terminix for not vetting Sunland, and they are suing.
“It’s our position that Terminix didn’t properly inspect the background and check on the ongoing qualifications in how these individuals were conducting their jobs,” said the McCaughey family attorney, Bill Williams.
Sunland Pest Control was shut down by the Florida Department of Agriculture after the incident.
Grenale Williams and the employee he worked with have been charged and pleaded guilty in federal court to improperly using a pesticide. They will be sentenced May 11 in Fort Pierce.
Williams told CNN he apologized to Carl McCaughey when he gave his deposition to the family’s lawyers.
“And he said he forgives. We shook hands and we hugged and we’re alright. It was no harm intent to the child,” Grenale Williams told CNN.
Williams denied that any of his equipment was faulty and said he had been properly trained.
Meanwhile, Peyton is slowly getting better. He’s able to go to school part-time, but he spends most of his days in intense therapy.
“We don’t know if he can fully recover 100% or not. We have no idea,” his mother said.
By Sara Ganim and David Fitzpatrick