County worker injured while clearing downed tree

In this file photo, Emery McDavid, left, and Emanuel Baker, with Alachua County Public Works, tighten a clasp on a over 100 foot hose to drain a retention pond off 39th Avenue, at Summit Oaks, in Gainesville, June 26, 2012. Baker is in intensive care after a power line pole fell on him Monday night while working in Micanopy.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, July 3, 2012 at 12:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 3, 2012 at 12:34 p.m.

The sun was nearly down Monday night as Emanuel Baker and his co-worker George Rountree wrestled with a tree that had fallen onto some power lines in Micanopy.

The two Alachua County Public Works employees had cut in half the huge tree along SE County Road 234 that was one of several trees apparently downed Monday night by a powerful storm that belted southern Alachua County.

Baker and Rountree's plan, officials said later, was to attach pull-straps to their county vehicle and yank the big tree free.

But as Rountree got into the truck, started the engine and tugged on the tree, something was wrong. He didn't notice that one of the tree's limbs was snagged on a power line, said Lt. Todd Kelly of the Alachua County Sheriff's Office.

As Rountree pulled, Baker yelled and tried to get his buddy's attention. Baker ran away from the tree so it wouldn't hit him, Kelly said, but he couldn't escape danger in that split second.

A utility pole that the lines were attached to snapped and fell on his head, knocking him out, Kelly said.

Nearby, Alachua County Deputy James Hardy and Sgt. Matthew Strang were busy directing traffic and they saw the scene unfold.

"Deputy Hardy and I were there blocking traffic because the sun was going down, and visibility was getting bad," explained Strang.

Immediately, Hardy and Strang ran to where Baker lay unconscious and started first-aid.

"I'm not sure if the pole knocked him down directly or pushed him onto the ground and he hit his head, but he was unconscious by the time we got to him," Strang said of Baker.

Baker was bleeding from his mouth and nose, so the officers removed his dentures, which were blocking his airway. Baker didn't have a pulse, Kelly said.

They performed CPR on him, and they grabbed an automated external defibrillator from one of their patrol cruisers.

"We were thinking ‘we have to save him.' " Strang recalled. "A couple people were saying prayers on scene. It's always tough to see a county employee get hurt."

"Around 2 to 3 minutes after we started CPR, his pulse came back," said Strang, "but we continued CPR until EMS arrived. In all, almost 25 minutes."

Baker was transported to Shands at the University of Florida, where he was in critical but stable condition in the intensive care unit, according to county spokesman Mark Sexton.

Baker, 58, has been with the county for more than seven years, and works with the road and bridge maintenance department, Sexton said Tuesday. Baker also supervises teams of state Department of Corrections workers.

Public Works Director Richard Hedrick described Baker as well-liked, conscientious and hard-working.

Strang expressed relief to be nearby so he and others could help Baker.

"There was one guy, a large African-American man from Micanopy Fire Rescue, who was a great help," Strang said. "The teamwork between us — Micanopy and ACFR — worked out in his benefit. It feels good to give him a chance."

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