Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

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.


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.

Town 'N Country man helping with Irma cleanup dies in chain saw accident 09/12/17 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 12, 2017 10:55pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Dirk Koetter to Bucs: Take your complaints to someone who can help


    TAMPA — It was just another day of aching bellies at One Save Face.

    Dirk Koetter: “All of our issues are self-inflicted right now.”
  2. Seminole Heights murders: fear and warnings, but no answers


    TAMPA — Interim Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan elicited loud gasps from the crowd of about 400 who showed up at Edison Elementary School on Monday night to learn more about the string of unsolved killings that have left the southeast Seminole Heights neighborhood gripped by fear.

    Kimberly Overman, left, comforts Angelique Dupree, center, as she spoke about the death of her nephew Benjamin Mitchell, 22, last week in Seminole Heights. The Tampa Police Department held a town hall meeting Monday night where concerned residents hoped to learn more about the investigation into the three shooting deaths over 11 days in southeast Seminole Heights. But police could give the crowd at Edison Elementary School few answers. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  3. Juvenile justice reform seen as help for teen car theft problem


    ST. PETERSBURG — One of Tampa Bay's largest religious organizations has decided to make reforming the juvenile justice system one of its top priorities for next year.

    One of Tampa Bay's largest religious organizations, Faith & Action for Strength Together (FAST), voted Monday night to make reforming the juvenile justice system one of its top priorities for next year. FAST believes civil citations could help Pinellas County?€™s teen car theft epidemic by keeping children out of the juvenile justice system for minor offenses. [ZACHARY T. SAMPSON  |  Times]
  4. U.S. general lays out Niger attack details; questions remain (w/video)


    WASHINGTON — The U.S. Special Forces unit ambushed by Islamic militants in Niger didn't call for help until an hour into their first contact with the enemy, the top U.S. general said Monday, as he tried to clear up some of the murky details of the assault that killed four American troops and has triggered a nasty …

    Gen. Joseph Dunford said much is still unclear about the ambush.
  5. Trump awards Medal of Honor to Vietnam-era Army medic (w/video)


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday turned a Medal of Honor ceremony for a Vietnam-era Army medic who risked his life to help wounded comrades into a mini homework tutorial for the boy and girl who came to watch their grandfather be enshrined "into the history of our nation."

    WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 23:  Retired U.S. Army Capt. Gary Rose (L) receives a standing ovation after being awarded the Medal of Honor by U.S. President Donald Trump during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House October 23, 2017 in Washington, DC. Rose, 69, is being recognized for risking his life while serving as a medic with the 5th Special Force Group and the Military Assistance Command Studies and Observations Group during ‘Operation Tailwind’ in September 1970. Ignoring his own injuries, Rose helped treat 50 soldiers over four days when his unit joined local fighters to attack North Vietnamese forces in Laos - officially off limits for combat at the time.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) 775062921