Jonathan H. Wilkes turned himself in to the Clay County Sheriff’s Office Monday afternoon for charges stemming from his involvement in a teen’s wrongful death.
In a Clay County Warrant issued Thursday, Wilkes, 37, was charged with felony aggravated manslaughter of a child due to the death of 14-year-old Blake Bryant, a part-time employee of John Wilkes Tree Service.
Bryant was working the morning of Aug. 13 at a residential location in Middleburg when his climbing harness was severed, causing him to fall 49 feet from a tree down to the dirt driveway at 4202 Scenic Drive.
Investigators said the teen died as a direct result of the gross and culpable negligence of his employer. Investigators found no evidence to confirm the teen used a secondary safety harness, a common practice in this occupation and could have prevented the fall.
Additionally, Bryant’s typical duties under Wilkes’ employment consisted of moving fallen tree limbs and branches from the ground to a trailer or truck bed. To the knowledge of Bryant’s family, the teen was never to climb a tree.
With Wilkes’ consent and under his supervision, the sheriff’s office said, Bryant climbed a pine tree and began to block off about a 16 feet portion of the trunk. Due to the weight of the block, it began to fall faster than anticipated.
Wilkes said he believed the teen was 16 years old, and he utilized him as an employee in a hazardous occupation, violating articles in the Florida state statutes, which restrict the employment of minors under the age of 18 in a logging occupation.
The sheriff’s office said Wilkes ignored various Florida child labor laws meant to prevent injuries or fatalities of minors. Violations include allowing a child 14 years old to operate power-driven machinery; as well as working on scaffolding, roofs or ladders above 6 feet tall.
The culmination of these violations, reports state, are what resulted in Wilkes’ culpable negligence and death of Bryant.
According to Clay County sheriff’s office spokeswoman Mary Justino, Wilkes’ arrest covers only the parts of the investigation considered criminal in nature. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Department of Labor will deal separately with issues regarding the business.