With mom killed by falling tree, her kids will return to Indiana


A tree fell through a house at 6904 SW 33rd Place in the early hours of Wednesday, Nov. 13 and killed a 42-year-old woman.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, November 14, 2013 at 7:10 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 14, 2013 at 7:10 p.m.

Correction: Alachua County Deputy Travis Beville and the Alachua County Crisis Team visited the children of Dawn Ewing the day after she was killed by a tree that fell on the mobile home she shared with her boyfriend. An earlier version of this article misidentified who visited the children.

Facts

How you can help:

Wiles Elementary School is donating toys and clothes to Dawn Ewing's three children. If you would like to donate items, contact the PTA of Wiles Elementary school at 955-6955.

When Wes Langston's cellphone rang at about 2:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, he picked it up quickly. Maybe something had happened to his family, he thought.

On the line, he heard an Alachua County Fire Rescue worker.

"We need help," the worker said. "A tree fell on a house and someone's stuck under it."

Langston, who owns a tree removal service, had been called before to remove trees from on top of houses and cars. But never from on top of people.

Langston called two of his workers to help and about 30 minutes later, they arrived at 6904 SW 33rd Place, the trailer where Michael Braton, 40, and his girlfriend Dawn Ewing, 42, lived with Dawn's three children.

The normally dark, wooded area east of Tower Road was lit like a football field, Langston said. The first thing he saw was a large, rotting tree jutting from the side of the house while EMTs, firefighters and law enforcement tried to stabilize the tree and pull out Braton and Ewing.

Langston said he tried not to look at Ewing's body as he and his workers cut parts of the tree away so firefighters could lift it and save Braton, who was still alive.

Within 15 minutes, officials had rescued Braton, who was taken to UF Health Shands Hospital for emergency surgery.

"I'm sorry for the children," Langston said. "It's sad that the children will have to go through life without their mother."

Dawn's three children — Alicia, 12, Logan, 9, and Bayleigh, 5 — were not harmed because they were at the opposite end of the mobile home, Alachua County sheriff's spokesman Art Forgey said.

The large oak, estimated to stand at least 100 feet high and weigh roughly 10 tons, was in the backyard of the single-wide mobile home. Strong winds toppled the tree and it crashed through the roof and onto the bed where Ewing and Braton slept, Forgey said.

The couple had moved into the trailer about three weeks before, according to their closest neighbor, Gussie Clayton. She heard "a loud noise … like thunder" at 2 a.m., but thought it was the storm, not her neighbors trapped under a tree.

No more than 150 yards away, Ewing struggled for her last breath.

***

Braton thought the move to Florida would be a second chance for him and Ewing.

They had been seeing each other for about six years in Mentone, Ind., and shared a daughter, Bayleigh, but separated nine months ago, said Braton's step-grandmother Margaret Hoadley.

In September, the couple decided to give their love another shot. This time, they would get married.

"It broke my heart," Hoadley said. "She was so kind and always special with the kids. It's sad because she grew up without her mother, and now her kids will be doing the same thing."

Ewing always talked about the kids, said Joshua Carter, her former manager at Yellow Creek Investments in Indiana.

She left about two months ago with the three kids, but left her oldest daughter, Andrea, in Indiana to finish high school, Carter said.

Braton's mother, Marilyn McCormick, said her son had been offered a technician position with Roto Rooter Plumbing & Drain Services in Gainesville. Since Wednesday's tragedy, the three children were being cared for by Braton's boss, Matt Hogsed, Hoadley said.

"It was so sudden," she said. "We had talked on Tuesday, and the next day she's dead and he's in the hospital."

***

Matt Hogsed's cellphone also rang at 2 a.m. early Wednesday, but this phone call wasn't from an emergency worker. It was from Braton, screaming that he was under a tree.

"Help me, help me!" he yelled. "My girlfriend's dead. Please help me!"

Braton had been frantically pushing buttons on the phone and happened to dial his boss. Hogsed told him to call 911 while he drove to Braton's home.

When he got there, Hogsed parked outside the road to the home by the ambulance.

"Please," he told them, "if there's anything I can do to help. I'm Mike's boss and he called me. Please, I could take the kids to my house."

The children had slept through the screams of their mother and her boyfriend. They were awakened by firefighters who arrived at the scene.

Officials let Hogsed take the children back to his house, where he lives with his wife and three children. The next morning, Alachua County Deputy Travis Beville and the Alachua County Crisis Team came to talk to the kids.

"I'm a tough, big guy," Hogsed said. "But when the (sheriff's deputy) came to tell these kids that their mother was dead, I broke down in tears. My wife and I sobbed together."

The children's grandparents in Indiana will take care of them now. Braton was still in the hospital Thursday night and could lose his leg, Hogsed said.

Braton was in tears when he talked to Hogsed after his surgery.

He told Hogsed his girlfriend didn't die instantly. She talked to him for a couple minutes, but couldn't breathe.

Her last words were a plea.

"Please," she said. "Just take care of my babies."

Hogsed had been trying to set up two separate donation funds for the children and Braton. So far, one of his business friends offered to pay for one of the children's plane ticket to Indiana and Wiles Elementary School is setting up a toy and clothing drive to help ensure the children have Christmas presents.

But from the tragedy, one thing still sticks out in Hogsed's mind.

Weeks before, Braton had told his coworkers that he was going to talk to his landlord about cutting the trees near his house down because they were a problem.

"He constantly talked about those trees being a problem," Hogsed said. "It's like he foresaw what was going to happen."

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