Thursday, April 26, 2018
Public safety

Family says man who fell to his death believed in safety

ST. PETERSBURG — Homero Levario Juarez stopped traveling for work years ago.

The 52-year-old Lehigh Acres man, who fell to his death this week at a St. Petersburg water treatment plant, had always worked with his hands. For decades, he took construction jobs all over the country.

But when Juarez met his wife about 20 years ago, he wanted to stay close. He got a job at Spectrum Contracting in Naples, eventually taking a supervisor position and working mainly in Lee County.

A few weeks ago, he accepted a rare assignment that would take him away from his family for an extended period of time. He and his crew were contracted to do maintenance work at the city of St. Petersburg's Northwest Water Reclamation Treatment Facility at 7500 26th Ave. N. His family was expecting him to return home for the holiday weekend.

Something went wrong about 11:15 a.m. Thursday. Juarez, authorities said, fell off a platform and dropped 30 feet to the concrete bottom of a 5 million-gallon water tank.

"He would leave right after work on Fridays," said his stepdaughter, Maggie Arizmendi of Naples. "He would have been home for Easter."

Officials initially said Juarez, who was doing maintenance on the wall of the tank, did not appear to be wearing a safety harness.

But police on Friday said Juarez was wearing a harness — but it wasn't tethered to anything. Investigators said Juarez was inside the basket of a scissor lift and was working with a pressurized liquid concrete hose. They believe that once the hose was charged, it caused a recoil at the nozzle, which Juarez was holding.

The jolt propelled Juarez backward and out of the basket.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating.

Arizmendi, 35, said her stepfather was always big on safety.

"This is why it's so shocking for us," she said Friday. "There's a lot of questions. We're trying to piece together everything."

Arizmendi said her mother, Lourdes, also 52, is in shock.

The couple met through friends years ago. She was a housekeeper at a hospital. He bought her a house, remodeled it and helped raise her three daughters. He also had five children in Texas, Arizmendi said.

"He was an amazing person," she said. "He was very good to us. He was very good to my mother. He took care of us all."

If a friend or family member needed repairs, Juarez did them. He loved to fish and had just gotten a boat. This weekend, he would have gone to church with his family and grilled an Easter meal for them afterward.

About 4:30 a.m. Thursday, he called his wife to make sure she was awake for her part-time cleaning job. He told her he loved her, and called her Sweetie Pie.

Several hours later, Juarez's bosses told his family he was dead.

"Never did we think this would ever happen," Arizmendi said. "He loved my mom so much. He would never want to leave her … especially like this. We'll miss his charisma, his positive advice, his patience … his smile."

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