RANTOUL — Gary Baker said he doesn’t want revenge.
The 60-year-old Rantoul resident, who is known for love of growing flowers and produce and helping people however he can, was attacked and bloodied in an apparent robbery attempt in his front yard the evening of Aug. 17.
Baker, who is disabled from stomach cancer, is recovering from the attack by a young man who beat him. But he won’t let the incident get him down.
A friend was also accosted by another person as he stood in Baker’s front yard.
While many such attack victims would cry for justice, Baker said he wants to show mercy.
He said he can relate somewhat.
As a 19-year-old, Baker said he was trying to find his way, was homeless and had a few scrapes with the law — albeit not violent ones like the one he experienced.
“I don’t want vengeance on them,” Baker said. “They better hope I catch them compared to what other people want to do with them. If you work with them at a young age,” they often can be helped.
He said some people have told him they would have run the culprits over with a vehicle if they had seen the attack. When a group of young people walked by his house a couple of days before the attack, he said he heard one of them say something about robbing him.
“A lot of (people) said they physically want to hurt them,” Baker said.
Instead, he said the youths need to be worked with “like they did when I was 19 and in trouble with the cops, and they put you on probation, a work program, and keep track of them.”
Baker said such an approach straightened him out.
He would like to see the attackers put to work in a community garden raising food to help people. Baker said he believes the two attackers were part of a group of young people who walked past his house a couple of days before the attack.
“Put that whole group down in the garden,” Baker said. “Do you know how much food I could grow if you had that whole group” working?
That’s how Baker thinks — how much food he can raise to give to people.
Baker’s advice to young people: “Don’t follow the crowd. Be who you are. Do something different.”
Rantoul police Sgt. Rodney Sullivan said an arrest warrant has been obtained for the person that police believe attacked Baker. He said the person is believed to have left the area.
“We have notified another jurisdiction of the warrant in hopes they locate and arrest him,” Sullivan said.
Charges on the warrant are aggravated battery, mob action and battery.
Baker said the attack happened as he and a friend, Ivan Torres, were talking in Baker’s front yard after Torres had brought Baker a load of posts he had picked up. The attackers sprang on the pair without warning.
Baker doesn’t remember much of what happened.
Torres does. He said someone ran up on Baker and began hitting him with a pipe. Another youth confronted Torres, hit him on the chin and prevented him from helping his friend.
Said Baker: “I was standing on this side of the truck and (Torres) was on the other side of the truck with the truck running. My neighbor was outside.
“I think they’re watching too much TV when they show them whacking people and they’re getting a thrill walking up on them and bashing them out of the blue.
“They just kept pounding on me. I just remember being grabbed (and) ... a little bit of the ambulance ride.”
Kimberly Lake, who lives in Baker’s house with her husband, Steven “Heck” Lake, told Baker that he came running in the house calling for Heck after the attack and was bleeding all over the place. Torres said Kimberly called 911.
“I stumbled in and bled all over their bed and the door frame,” Baker said.
Torres, who said he has known Baker since they met 10 years ago at Christian Life Church, said it was “a little guy” who attacked Baker, while it was a large male who attacked him.
“The little guy was angry. I don’t know what the beef was between him and Gary,” Torres said.
Torres said he feels “a little guilty” for the incident. If Torres hadn’t delivered the posts that night, Baker wouldn’t have been in the front yard.
“I love Gary,” Torres said. “Gary’s the goodest guy I know. I love that guy. He’s one of the hardest-working men in town, and he gives a lot of his things to other people.”
Torres said he left the scene and came back with his nephew, who legally can possess a firearm, and tried to make a citizens arrest, but the attackers were gone.
Sullivan said no arrest information is available on the person who attacked Torres.
“He has been identified, but (it) is a juvenile, so not much to put out about that right now,” Sullivan said.
Baker was transported to Carle Hospital in Urbana, for treatment and was released a few hours later. He said the pain was “real bad” and still is.
He suffered injuries to his head, arm, shoulder and broke his thumb in two places.
“Being beat on the head” will do that, he said. But the vertigo is the worst part. He used to be dizzy because of his bout with cancer, and it has returned with this attack.
A native of the Deland-Weldon area, Baker settled in this area after coming to work at Rantoul Products. He won’t let the attack keep him down. He still tends to his garden plots located “all over” town and has 33 fruit trees. Baker also does a lot of canning.
He said his doctor wants him to undergo physical therapy, but he believes he gets plenty of therapy working in his gardens. And he gets to be in the atmosphere he loves.
Baker said he tries not to live in fear.
“Late at night some guy came walking up the driveway. I was a little skittish,” but everything was OK, he said. “I try not to let it bother me. This is a good town in general, but once in a while things crop up that you have to deal with. You can’t be scared.”