Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Public safety

Town 'N Country man helping with Irma cleanup dies in chain saw accident

TAMPA — Rodrigo Martinez knelt before a hole in the black, weed-choked earth. A heavy log lay near him, freshly severed from the towering branches. He cradled the burly wood, its bark stained with droplets of red.

"Brother, I'm with you," he said. "You know that. Your blood is my blood."

He placed the log in the hole, dug at the exact place where, a day earlier, his friend Wilfredo Hernandez came to rest after firefighters lowered his body from the tree.

Hernandez became the only known local casualty of Hurricane Irma, but not until after the storm wreaked havoc on Tampa Bay.

The 55-year-old construction worker was helping Martinez, a close friend and neighbor on their Town 'N Country street, trim the tangled branches that swayed through power cables in his back yard.

Hernandez stood high atop the tree late Monday afternoon. Martinez and neighbors in an adjacent yard watched as he pressed a chain saw into the wood.

The blade became stuck in a branch, they later told Hillsborough sheriff's deputies. As Hernandez pulled, the chain saw kicked back and tore into his neck, cutting through his jugular vein and carotid artery, according to a medical examiner report.

Firefighters and deputies arrived at the home at 5115 Town 'N Country Blvd. and used a harness to lower him. He was dead.

On Tuesday afternoon, Martinez stood with two other men, sweating in the hot sun, amid shrubs and grass and tangled vines.

He held up a knotted stick — two small branches marked with blood forking off a larger severed piece, and thin vine jutting out from the end. He tugged the vine with his fingers.

"This is what killed him," he said, "this little piece right here."

He and Hernandez had been friends for several years, he said. They lived in the working-class, mostly Hispanic neighborhood northwest of the city, where residents looked out for one other.

They boarded up when the storm approached. When it was over, they thought they had escaped unscathed. Some saw the accident as it happened. Others had heard about it. Few wanted to talk about it. Hernandez was a father of three adult children who live in Cuba.

The authorities carried away his body, but there were bloody reminders everywhere Tuesday.

With spare words exchanged in Spanish, Martinez and another man, Sergio Rodriguez, dug the hole near the base of the tree.

"We're going to take it down," Martinez said, "And bury him where he fell."

Rodriguez ascended a ladder against the tree trunk. He stepped high to the place where Hernandez had fallen.

He used a handheld blade to saw. Wood dust rained down past a white fence that was stained with red.

Rodriguez put the saw aside and grabbed a machete that had been placed in the wood. He raised the blade and swung, striking the branch again and again.

Thwack-thwack-thwack.

Martinez noted the date his friend had died — Sept. 11. He said he used to work in New York and knew many who perished that day 16 years ago.

"What do you call that?" he said. "Coincidence? Destiny?"

The log dangled, then fell.

Rodriguez picked up a shovel and stabbed at the wood.

The men gathered the fallen branches and foliage and filled the hole. They ran a garden hose from next door.

Martinez sprayed the cool running water. The red spots dissolved and trickled to the ground, flowing over mud and into the hole. He removed his white T-shirt and used it to wipe a fence.

He stopped, and he sobbed.

 
Comments
McDonald’s manager gets ovation as Tampa thanks those who helped Seminole Heights investigation

McDonald’s manager gets ovation as Tampa thanks those who helped Seminole Heights investigation

TAMPA — Delanda Walker, the McDonald’s manager who gave police the tip that led to an arrest in the Seminole Heights slayings, received a standing ovation Wednesday during a ceremony thanking citizens who helped in the investigation.Mayor Bob Buckhor...
Updated: 15 minutes ago
He still has nightmares: Deckhand recalls prior casino boat fire

He still has nightmares: Deckhand recalls prior casino boat fire

Cory Byrd said he still has nightmares about the smoke. In them, he is back in the cabin of the Express Shuttle II, scrambling to reach the white rectangle of an open door. The smoke was so thick, he said, you could barely see an outstretched hand. ...
Updated: 20 minutes ago
Pinellas sheriff, feds announce changes to controversial immigrant detention policy

Pinellas sheriff, feds announce changes to controversial immigrant detention policy

LARGO — A top federal immigration official is in Pinellas County this afternoon to announce a workaround to a legal quandary faced by county sheriffs to detain suspected undocumented immigrants in local jails.U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Man robbed while responding to Craigslist sex ad

Man robbed while responding to Craigslist sex ad

HOLIDAY — A man responding to a Craiglist ad for sex was instead robbed by the boyfriend of the woman he was meeting, sheriff’s deputies said. Robert Roser, 39, of Holiday claimed he was part of a police sting operation before taking $60 and two blue...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Teen, 14, arrested on charges of bringing loaded gun to Plant City High School

PLANT CITY — A 14-year-old high school student was accused of bringing a loaded gun to campus on Tuesday, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies arrested the boy after 3 p.m. at Plant City High School after administrators foun...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Plant City family attacked, robbed during early-morning home invasion

PLANT CITY — A 63-year-old woman was unloading items from her car when two men forced her into home at gun-point and threatened to kill her and her family, according to Plant City police. The woman arrived to her home on the 2700 block of Barrett Ave...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Deputies release name of homicide victim in Tampa’s Grant Park neighborhood

Deputies release name of homicide victim in Tampa’s Grant Park neighborhood

Hillsborough County deputies are conducting a homicide investigation after a man was found dead in the Grant Park area of Tampa late Tuesday or early Wednesday morning.Deputies say 22-year-old Elijah Moore’s was found in the 3700 block of Carroway St...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Documents to remain sealed in case against Seminole Heights killings suspect

Documents to remain sealed in case against Seminole Heights killings suspect

TAMPA — A judge wanted to know whether search warrants related to the investigation of four Seminole Heights murders need to be kept out of public view.The answer, voiced in a court hearing Wednesday morning in the case against Howell Emanuel Donalds...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Pinellas sheriff, feds to announce changes to immigration detention policies

Pinellas sheriff, feds to announce changes to immigration detention policies

Law enforcement and federal immigration officials will announce today new efforts around the use of immigration detainers.The detainers, or requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that local jails hold onto people suspected of being in...
Published: 01/17/18
Here's the backstory of the Pasco casino boat operator whose ship caught on fire

Here's the backstory of the Pasco casino boat operator whose ship caught on fire

Long before a shuttle ship from Tropical Breeze Casino caught fire Sunday off the coast of Port Richey, leaving one passenger dead, the company behind the operation was a source of controversy. The casino operator went by various names over the year...
Updated: 5 hours ago