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Family of Aubrey Stewart, Critically Injured by City-Owned Tree, Files Claim Against City

10:05 PM, Aug 9, 2011   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A family announced today that it is filing a notice of claim against the city of Jacksonville, alleging that the city failed to remove a dead tree from its right of way despite numerous complaints and prior incidents.

On June 27, 15-year-old Aubrey Stewart was standing under a tree in front of his home on Dyal Street when a huge limb snapped and came crashing down on top of him. He fractured his back and hip, and sustained a concussion and internal injuries. He's now paralyzed from the waist down.

"Everything is going to be different now for him," said his mother Audrey Stewart.

Paperwork obtained from the city shows that Aubrey's father, Joe Stewart, along with neighbors made numerous complaints to the city about potentially dangerous trees on Dyal Street. 

"I put them on notice about four or five times," said Stewart.

Complaints began in September 2010. More followed in January and May of this year. The tree was marked by the city in January to be trimmed, but never was. An estimated completion date was May 12.

"If they had been taken care of May 12, this tragedy would not have occurred," said attorney Steve Pajcic.

On behalf of the family, Pajcic is filing the notice of claim against the city.  He said there's no reason the tree shouldn't have been cut down and that it was not a hypothetical problem, but a proven one.

"It is only really dereliction of duty by the city that their son has been paralyzed," said Pajcic.

The city has six months to respond to the claim, or a lawsuit can be filed. City of Jacksonville Managing Deputy Howard Maltz said the city has no comment on the notice of claim.

The tree has now been cut down, but Aubrey's parents say, not in time. "It's very frustrating, very. I felt let down by the city. I really did," said Joe Stewart.

Statement from city regarding tree removal/trimming process:

"Calls are addressed by geographical area.  Upon report to the city, a supervisor will go out to determine if the tree is indeed on city property and examine its condition. The supervisor will look for things like extensive deadwood, splitting, dead branches, snapped and hanging branches, the tree's root system and condition of the trunk. It will be marked for removal or trim based on these factors. "

"If the condition is more severe, it will be given higher priority and dispatched to the city's contractor for more immediate processing. If the issue is not as pressing, it is addressed in the order in which it was received. "

"For some perspective, the "backlog" has been dramatically reduced in recent years.  For instance, in 2006 there was a backlog of about 2,200-2,400 trees in the system."

First Coast News checked and found out there are 792 active tree-related complaints in the system.  This includes downed trees, and issues related to trimming or removal.  This is up from 725 in June.  A representative with the city said the increase is due to recent storm activity.



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