Clay County, FL - A Palatka man has been charged with the death of a local teen.
37-year-old Jonathan Wilkes owns a company which trims and maintains trees. When working a Middleburg home on Scenic Drive last month, a 14-year-old employee- who Wilkes says he thought was 16- was allowed to climb a pine tree measuring just over 71’ tall. According to the police report obtained by WOKV, the teen’s family believed he was responsible for moving fallen limbs in to the truck and not climbing trees.
The victim used boot spikes and a climbing harness to climb as high as 68 feet and cut some of the tree using a power chainsaw. He then climbed down to about 19’ and began cutting more. The “block” of tree he was working on started falling earlier than expected, severing the 14-year-old’s safety harness and causing him to fall to the hard packed dirt driveway.
The Clay County Sheriff’s Office says there was no evidence of a secondary safety harness, which investigators say would have been common on a work site like this and could have prevented the fall.
The teen was life-flighted to UF Health where he later died of blunt force trauma to the head and chest.
Investigators say Wilkes used the teen in a hazardous occupation and that even if he were a 16-year-old like Wilkes believed, he would still be violating Florida law which prevents minors under 18-year-old from working a logging occupation. Further, deputies say he violated child labor laws.
Investigators believe these violations show “the defendant’s culpable negligence” and resulted in the victim’s death.
Wilkes is now held on a $25,003 bond for Aggravated Manslaughter of a Child and has been booked in to the Clay County Jail.