A judge has sentenced the owner of a tree trimming company to 15 years in prison in connection with the death of a 14-year-old who was helping to cut down a tree.
Blake Bryant fell about 50 feet from a tree in Middleburg, FL, on Aug. 13, 2013, after he accidentally cut through his safety harness while using a chain saw. He was flown to a hospital where he died.
He was working for John Wilkes Tree Service.
Former owner Jonathan Harves Wilkes, 37, plead guilty to charges of aggravated manslaughter of a child. He could have been sentenced to up to 30 years in prison. Wilkes had previous fraud and probation violation arrests.
Wilkes said he thought Bryant was 16 at the time. However, state law prohibits minors under 18 from doing this type of work.
An arrest warrant affidavit said Bryant’s normal duties were moving limbs and branches. His family didn’t know he was climbing trees as part of the job.
OSHA investigated and issued four serious violations for a total of $10,900 in fines.
One violation was of OSHA’s General Duty Clause which requires employers to furnish employment free from recognized hazards that cause or are likely to cause death of serious injury to employees. Specifically, the citation says:
“Employees were exposed to a fall hazard. On Aug. 13, 2013, an employee climbing trees and working with a chain saw to cut trees was not a qualified arborist, exposing himself to a 51 foot fall hazard.”
The three other citations were for general personal protection equipment requirements and specific ones for eye and face, and head protection.
The OSHA case isn’t closed. OSHA’s website says the penalties have been referred to debt collection.
The U.S. Department of Labor heavily restricts the types of jobs 14- and 15-year-olds can do. They can do clean-up and yard work which does not include using power-driven mowers, cutters, trimmers, edgers or similar equipment.