Freak accident involving garbage truck reconnects Utah family with estranged brother

Posted at 9:15 PM, Apr 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-21 23:53:52-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- A Utah family has been reunited after more than a decade apart from one of their family members, and the reunion came about after a tragic accident involving a garbage truck.

35-year-old Michael Pemberton's brothers said they didn't even know if he was still alive, until Pemberton was caught in a freak accident with a garbage truck last month.

As he recovers from his injuries, he's now reconnecting with his family after all these years. And, his brothers said, if it weren't for this accident, they might not have been able to track him down.

The pain is clear from his massive injuries. Photos show Pemberton's face purple from broken capillaries.

"It ruptured in his bladder," said his brother, David Pemberton. "His pelvis was broken in numerous places."

Doctors had to implant titanium steel. Another photo shows the dozens of staples that run up his stomach from the surgery.

Police reported Pemberton had been sleeping in a dumpster in Salt Lake City on the morning of March 10, when a garbage truck came and emptied it. Pemberton tumbled into the truck, became trapped, and was nearly crushed to death. It wasn't until blocks later that the driver noticed what had happened.

"It's hard to imagine what you would do in that situation, just watching the world get dark around you and realized you're going to be crushed to death," David said.

He's healing now, but it isn't just about those injuries. For Michael, it's about overcoming a battle of years of homelessness, drug abuse and mental health issues. His loved ones said it's also about finding his adopted family, who until now didn't know of his whereabouts.

"It'd been about 13 /14 years since I actually laid eyes on him, and interacted," David said.

Another older brother, Joe Pemberton said, "You go that many years without checking in or contacting, that's just the worst kind of story you want to read about your brother."

Even after more than a decade of not even a word, the love brothers share all came back in that hospital room.

"The first time he ever saw me, he said, 'Man, you've gotten old.'" David recounted, with a smile. "And I said, 'Man, you look like crap.' And we kind of laughed and hugged."

Still, the reunion was hard to swallow and talking about it made David emotional.

"Seeing him in that condition, his face swollen and red, and realizing the trauma that he had gone through to achieve that," David said, his voice quivering.

Michael's family is around him once again, and, they said, it's a missing piece put back together.

"It's been good to see him smile," Joe Pemberton said. "It's been good to see him getting health back."

His family has a lot to work through, after 13 years apart. But they said Michael's in good spirits now, and returning back to the brother they knew so long ago.

David said Michael still has about four weeks before he can get released from the hospital. The family has set up a GoFundMe account as they figure out his next steps.