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Tree trimmer death blamed on employer, says widow, OSHA

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The widow of a Thonotosassa man who died after falling while trying to trim a palm tree is blaming the landscape company for failing to provide adequate instruction and safety equipment.

Gray, Georgia resident Bonnie Beatrice Roberts, the surviving spouse of Darryl James Roberts has filed suit against Total Scapes Inc., doing business as Tampa landscape company Totalscape Solutions.

Totalscape Solutions is founded, owned and managed by 45-year-old Mark Anthony Gonzalez, and is located at 1717 E. Busch Blvd. in Tampa.

Darryl Roberts, formerly known as Darryl James Babilius, was a 48-year-old Thonotosassa resident working at Totalscape Solutions when he died Aug. 11, 2015, leaving behind three children, six grandchildren and Bonnie Beatrice, his wife of two years.

Bonnie was a cosmetologist Roberts married in 2013 after divorcing ex-wife Deborah Babilius in 2011.

According to the suit, filed Feb. 17 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, claims Roberts, as an employee of landscaper Totalscape, went to Culbreath Key Bayside condominiums at 5000 Culbreath Key Way in Tampa. Totalscape was hired to trim some palm trees “at great heights.” The trees were “not accessible by a lift,” so Roberts — using a body belt and lanyard — was required to use a ladder to reach the palm tree while also carrying a chain saw.

Attempting his first cut, Roberts fell backward off the ladder, suffering a fatal blunt trauma to his brain.

A federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration report on the accident concluded Roberts: “leaned backwards on the ladder to start to cut the first branch with his chain saw and he fell to the ground below sustaining head injuries.”

OSHA fined Totalscape Solutions $6,300 in for two violations of federal safety rules, one of them labeled “serious.”

In Roberts’ obituary, it said he “admired and respected the guidance and leadership of the owner of the company, Mark Gonzales.”

In the suit, however, widow Bonnie Roberts blames Totalscape, saying the company offered “insufficient equipment and training” and that he was misled to think the safety equipment would protect him.

The suit continues: “The Defendant’ s conduct made Darryl James Roberts unaware of the risk he faced because the danger was not apparent to him given the alleged ‘safety’ equipment provided and the fact the Defendant concealed or misrepresented the danger so as to prevent Darryl James Roberts from exercising judgment about whether to perform the work.”

Bonnie Roberts is seeking damages for negligence.

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