Landscape company employee electrocuted on Siesta Key was experienced in operating bucket lifts, co-worker and supervisor tell the police

50-year-old Guatemalan native had been working with Sarasota firm for about five years

A wall stands in front of the house at 684 Freeling Drive on Siesta Key. Image from Google Maps

A 50-year-old native of Guatemala who had worked in Sarasota County for several years was the victim of the accidental electrocution on Siesta Key’s Freeling Drive last month, the Sarasota Police Department has reported.

Based on a detective’s investigation into the incident and the District 12 Medical Examiner’s report, it appeared that the bucket lift in which Juan Alba Rodriguez was positioned struck a power line as he raised the lift in an effort to reach tree limbs in front of a wall at 684 Freeling Drive. The incident occurred about 3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 24, the report added.

Rodriguez’ co-worker, Julio Hernandez, told the detective that Rodriguez had been with Horticopia for four or five years, while Hernandez had been employed by the company about a year. “Hernandez stated that [Rodriguez] usually operated the lift and noted he was very good at it,” the detective’s report said.

Rodriguez lived on 61st Avenue East in Sarasota, according to the police report.

Mark Steinberg, owner of Botanical Solutions, told the detective that Rodriguez and Hernandez were working as subcontractors for him the day of the incident. “Steinberg further confirmed that the decedent was a very proficient operator of the bucket lift and a very hard worker, the detective’s report added.

The detective recommended that the death be classified as accidental and the case considered closed, the report said.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is investigating the case, nonetheless. In response to News Leader questions, spokesman Michael D’Aquino wrote in an Oct. 11 email that he was not able to provide a timeframe for when that investigation would be concluded. “However, the OSH Act does require the agency to complete its inspections within six months (that doesn’t mean it will take six months),” he pointed out.

At the scene

A graphic shows the house at 684 Freeling Drive (outlined in red). Image from the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office

On Sept. 24, after the power went out at the house located at 690 Freeling Drive, the resident went outside and looked down the street, the Police Department report said. The resident spotted Rodriguez “slumped over” in the lift, which was about 30 feet in the air, the Police Department report noted. The resident then asked a neighbor to call 911.

The first officer on the scene saw a chain saw lying in the grass directly below the bucket lift, the report said; the saw was not running, but the engine of the lift truck was, the report noted. A broken power line also was dangling directly above the lift, “which was lying across the tree tops,” the report added.

After a Sarasota County EMS crew arrived on the scene about 3:11 p.m., the Fire Department requested that the electric grid for that area be shut down, Ashley Lusby, a spokeswoman for the Sarasota County Emergency Services Department, told The Sarasota News Leader.

Rodriguez was lowered to the ground, the report said, where the EMS crew pronounced him dead at 3:30 p.m.

Hernandez, who also was on the scene at the time of the accident, told a police officer he was on the ground behind a wall, cutting up the branches that Rodriguez was dropping to the ground. Hernandez said he did not “know anything was wrong until a neighbor came running down the road and pointing to the bucket lift,” the report noted.

Hernandez also said that he and Rodriguez had been working at the Freeling Drive residence since about 9 a.m. that day.

Many areas on Siesta Key — especially neighborhoods on the north end of the island — suffered significant tree damage as a result of Hurricane Irma’s track through Florida.

The Police Department detective’s report noted that the house at 684 Freeling Drive is on the south side of the street; a cement retaining wall between 6 and 8 feet tall surrounds most of the property.

An aerial map shows the location of Freeling Drive on Siesta Key. Image from Google Maps

The detective wrote that the bucket lift had controls both on the base of the unit and in the bucket. “The lift was positioned underneath the power lines and had stability legs in place on each side of the lift.”

After investigating the scene, the detective determined that Rodriguez “lifted the bucket into the top power line that carried approximately 7,620 volts of electricity. The bucket controls,” he continued, “which are surrounded by a metal cage with a black rubber coating, showed evidence of impact with the power line at the top right portion of the control panel.”

The detective noted that it appeared the lift struck the wire as the lift was moving up; electricity apparently arced through the all-metal bucket lift, where Rodriguez was positioned.

Rodriguez had severe burns on the right side of his face, neck and head, as well as on his back, right shoulder and left knee, the report added.

The bucket lift was about 15 to 20 feet in front of the wall, the report said. Sea grapes standing 30 to 40 feet tall lined the front of the wall, the report pointed out.

The Medical Examiner’s report, which the Sarasota Police Department provided to the News Leader, said that Rodriguez was working around power lines when it appeared he made contact with them “and was electrocuted.”

Rodriguez’s son was the only other member of the family living in the area, Steinberg — the owner of Botanical Solutions — told the detective, according to the report. Steinberg added that he had asked his office manager and his girlfriend to notify the son about Rodriguez’ death, the report added.