How art and his young sons saved a man who lost so much in a tragic accident

  • People
  • Thursday, 23 Feb 2023

After losing his wife and being injured in a hiking accident in 2021, Quinteros has turned to art and his two sons for strength. Photos: Lucy Schaly/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS

Around the age of 22, Jared Quinteros was dealt a discouraging blow: He was harshly told by an art gallery owner that he wasn't cut out for the art world.

Quinteros is proving that critic wrong – along with anyone else who doubted his ability to overcome tragedy.

"At 44, after the accident, you kind of say, ya know, 'screw it' to whoever wants to be negative about (your art). Because at the end of the day it's my emotions on canvas so it doesn't really matter what somebody has to say about it," he said.

Art has been a refuge since a freak accident in June 2021, when the South Fayette, Pennsylvania (the United States) man lost his wife and the mother of their two sons, Kara Leo, and suffered a spinal cord injury that forces him to use a wheelchair.

On a sunny day with a slight breeze, Quinteros and Leo were on a stroll on the Morton Ravine Trail in Boyce Mayview Park in Upper St Clair near Pittsburgh when they heard a series of loud snapping sounds.

Then, a large, decayed tree branch suddenly came crashing down, striking Quinteros in the back and Leo in the head.He said he knew as he lay on the ground, unable to move his legs, that he would likely never walk again.

A trained EMT, he also knew, while calling to his unresponsive wife, that she would probably not survive her injuries.

Quinteros holding a photo of his wife, Kara Leo, taken in 2021 in her Mount Lebanon bakery.Quinteros holding a photo of his wife, Kara Leo, taken in 2021 in her Mount Lebanon bakery.

A passerby heard his cries and got help, but it was too late. Leo, 40, a pastry chef who owned her own bakery in Mt Lebanon, died the next morning. Quinteros now uses a wheelchair.

It's been a long 19 months for Quinteros and his two sons, Oliver and Owen.

"It's been difficult, to be honest," he said. "It is a daily struggle to rise above the depression, the sorrow, the grief. It's a fight."

The three of them survived by relying on each other, he said.

Quinteros sees "so much of their mother" in their two boys. He also turned to his art."When I was still in the hospital after the accident, and I'm laying there thinking about everything I can't do anymore, how much I lost, how much has been taken away from me, I had this moment where I'm like, 'I have to paint. I need to paint. Just get back in and start painting'."

As soon as Quinteros returned home, he began focusing on his work.

A calendar photo of Quinteros and his wife, Kara Leo, hangs on the wall in their home, which is being renovated to make it wheelchair accessible for him.A calendar photo of Quinteros and his wife, Kara Leo, hangs on the wall in their home, which is being renovated to make it wheelchair accessible for him.

The self-taught artist began painting things he likes and that feel good to him, like flowers. In December, he displayed works from the past year in a show at the Sharpsburg gallery Ketchup City Creative.

He was able to focus on his art because friends from around the South Hills have pitched in to help make his home wheelchair-accessible. Renovations include a new driveway ramp up to his front door and an elevator.

Donations of money, labour, material and time – like helping with chores – poured in. The support made him feel less alienated, Quinteros said.

"When you're in a situation like this, it's very, very lonely," he said. "You feel a lot of times that you're all alone in this. Especially losing my wife....

"But there have been so many people in the last year and a half who have come into my life that have donated to keep my life moving forward.... Those people have been necessary and amazing. I've been blown away by the generosity that's come my way."

The artist has donated paintings for various fundraisers, including a 2022 run to benefit the Ryan Shazier Fund for Spinal Rehabilitation. He has plans to create an art therapy programme at UPMC-Mercy to help people with spinal cord injuries.

Quinteros has filed a lawsuit against the municipality that owns the park for neglecting to maintain trees along the trail where the accident happened. He said he filed suit so that no one else's life will be endangered there.

"Ideally, I would like to see Upper St Clair take care of their stuff, clean their trails and do all that, so that it doesn't happen to someone else.

"I feel like If I don't say anything, if I don't do anything about it and someone else gets hurt, well, that's on me." – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Tribune News Service

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