Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tree limb hanging over Tampa utility line snaps, killing Hudson driver

TAMPA — The Montgomery family says they complained a year ago about the heavy oak branches hanging over utility lines outside their home on Orient Road.

In a freak accident early Thursday morning, one branch finally snapped just as 36-year-old William Vantassel of Hudson was driving by in the dark, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said.

Vantassel died when his 2015 Nissan Altima collided with the limb as it dangled above the road from utility lines.

"He must not have seen it," said Chris Montgomery, who lives in the home at the corner of Orient Road and Deleuil Avenue.

His father, Richard Montgomery, called 911 about 3:45 a.m. when he noticed the branch had fallen onto the utility lines, Chris Montgomery said. Vantassel drove by just over five minutes later while Montgomery was still on the phone with an emergency operator.

The hood of the Altima cleared the dangling branch but the roof was crushed as the car continued moving.

"It looked like it was tin-canned," said Carmen Lopez, who also lives at the Montgomery home.

Chris Montgomery said he thinks heavy rain over the past week accelerated rotting at the base of the branch.

A woman who answered William Vantassel's phone Thursday said no one was available to speak.

Vantassel's Facebook page indicates he has two daughters, enjoyed power lifting and worked as a truck driver with US Foods, a national food wholesaler with a location near the scene of the accident.

"Our deepest sympathies are with the Vantassel family and everyone touched by this tragedy," US Foods said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times. "Billy was a valued and respected part of the US Foods family. We are all deeply sadden by this news."

It remained unclear Thursday who was responsible for trimming branches near the utility lines.

The pole that carried the lines is owned by Tampa Electric, but the lines that caught the falling limb is fiber Spectrum cable lines owned by Charter Communications, Charter spokesman Joseph Durkin said.

The lines never fell and employees rehung them by 8 a.m. Thursday, Durkin said. Because they don't carry power, he said, there was no danger of electrocution.

The Spectrum lines hang on the Tampa Electric "joint-use" pole alongside others owned by utility providers, Cherie Jacobs, Tampa Electric spokeswoman, said in an email.

"Our investigation shows that Tampa Electric's power lines were not involved in this morning's tragic accident," Jacobs said. "Our troubleman was called to the scene, but our equipment was not involved, and he made no repairs."

Tampa Electric employees visited the site in 2014 after the Montgomery family called about the potentially hazardous branch, she said. Ultimately, the utility decided the branch didn't put any company-owned property in danger.

Joint use utility poles can hold as many as five additional lines owned by different utility companies, said J.B. Shepherd, an electrical engineer in Bushnell. Typically, those companies would all shoulder the responsibility for maintaining trees around the pole — an arrangement that would be spelled out in a joint use agreement.

All have to answer to the Florida Public Service Commission and should be held accountable for maintaining their property, Shepherd said.

"If any of these other companies became aware of a potential danger," he said, "they have a duty to correct it."

Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] Follow @pguzzotimes

Tree limb hanging over Tampa utility line snaps, killing Hudson driver 06/15/17 [Last modified: Thursday, June 15, 2017 6:55pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Chemical industry insider now shapes EPA policy


    WASHINGTON — For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has struggled to prevent an ingredient once used in stain-resistant carpets and nonstick pans from contaminating drinking water.

    This is the Dow chemical plant near Freeport, Texas. Before the 2016 election, Dow had been in talks with the EPA to phase out the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which is blamed for disabilities in children. Dow is no longer willing to compromise.
  2. Unforgiving wildfires affect vineyard workers and owners


    SONOMA, Calif. — When the wildfires ignited, vineyard workers stopped picking grapes and fled for their lives. Some vineyard owners decided to stay and fight back, spending days digging firebreaks and sleeping among their vines.

    Wilma Illanes and daughter Gabriela Cervantes, 8, found their home intact, but had lost a week’s wages and sought aid.
  3. O'Reilly got new contract after big settlement


    Last January, six months after Fox News ousted its chairman amid a sexual harassment scandal, the network's top-rated host at the time, Bill O'Reilly, struck a $32 million agreement with a longtime network analyst to settle new sexual harassment allegations, two people briefed on the matter told the New York …

    Bill O’Reilly was fired by Fox News after multiple allegations.
  4. Trump plans to release JFK assassination documents


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced Saturday morning that he planned to release the tens of thousands of never-before-seen documents left in the files related to President John F. Kennedy's assassination held by the National Archives and Records Administration.

    FILE - In this Nov. 22, 1963 file photo, President John F. Kennedy waves from his car in a motorcade in Dallas. Riding with Kennedy are First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, right, Nellie Connally, second from left, and her husband, Texas Gov. John Connally, far left.  President Donald Trump, on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017,  says he plans to release thousands of never-seen government documents related to President John F. Kennedy's assassination.  (AP Photo/Jim Altgens, File) NY107
  5. Water leak slows traffic in Westshore area

    Public Safety

    TAMPA –– A broken water main has closed the westbound lane of West Cypress Street between North Westshore Boulevard and North Ward Street. The city estimates the repairs will be completed by 7 a.m. on Sunday.