HOLLYWOOD — As a veteran landscaper, Hernan Gutierrez knew that working with a wood chipper was dangerous, his girlfriend recalled.
Yet he never expressed any fear of doing the job, said Karen Gamez-Pereira. "He had experience," she said.
That experience was not enough to prevent Gutierrez from losing his life days ago in a wood-chipper accident that continues to horrify.
"There are no more tears," Gamez-Pereira said Thursday, three days after Gutierrez, 42, was killed when he fell or was pulled into a chipper in Davie as he fed tree limbs and branches into an industrial-size machine.
"It is horrible to think of," she said. "He didn't deserve to die like that. Nobody in this world deserves to die like that. I'm in shock."
Gutierrez, a native of Guatemala who came to the United States 14 years ago, had two dreams, Gamez-Pereira said: to own his own roofing company, and to introduce her to his family in his homeland.
In the next few days, she plans to meet his parents and three children when she travels to Central America with his remains.
The death at about 4:15 p.m. Monday appeared to be accidental, according to Davie police. The U.S. Labor Department's Occupational Safety & Health Administration is investigating.
The wood chipper itself was taken to the Broward Medical Examiner's Office.
Gamez-Pereira, 37, said Gutierrez was a hard worker who took whatever roofing or landscaping jobs were available.
He was working Monday on a tree-trimming job outside Federation Gardens, an 80-unit apartment building for low-income residents.
The prime contractor was Green Horizon Services Inc., a commercial lawn care and landscape management company in Davie.
Company owner Rafael Toledo said he was "sorry and saddened by what happened." He said he could not comment further while the incident was under investigation.
Gutierrez was employed by Tree Techs Inc., of Pembroke Pines, according to Gamez-Pereira.
He had worked there off and on over the years, and began working for the firm steadily about a month ago, she said. Tree Techs officials could not be reached for comment.
Gamez-Pereira said she met Gutierrez five years ago at a restaurant. She described him as "always happy, hard-working, humble, with a great sense of humor."
She was to pick him up after work on Monday. When he did not call by 7 p.m., she began calling his co-workers and his boss, but no one picked up.
Finally, at 10 p.m. Monday, a co-worker and friend of Gutierrez called and gave her the news, she said.
"He just kept saying, 'You have to be strong,' " she said. "He could hardly talk."
That night Gamez-Pereira said she called his mother and spoke to his children in Guatemala.
"They just wanted to know how: Why?" she said. "They couldn't believe it."
As a couple Gamez-Pereira said she and Gutierrez liked to eat out, especially in Miami. Although he did not drink, she said, they would sometimes go to a sports bar to watch soccer and socialize.
"Our plan was to marry," she said. "His dream was to save his money, buy a truck and start his own business.
"For me, he was everything. A good man, a good husband."
None of Gutierrez's co-workers saw what happened at the wood chipper.
"It was a hot day," Gamez-Pereira said. "Maybe he was exhausted. Maybe he fell. We don't know."
Gamez-Pereira, a native of Honduras who came to the United States with her parents when she was 16, said she is receiving emotional support from her relatives here.
"I am coping because of God," she said. "He is the only way, the only one giving me peace sometimes."
In addition to Gamez-Pereira, Gutierrez is survived by his mother and father, and three children ages 21, 17 and 14, all in Guatemala.