Man pleads guilty in teen's tree trimming death

Teen working with tree service cut through his safety harness

Department of Corrections photo of Jonathan Wilkes
Department of Corrections photo of Jonathan Wilkes

MIDDLEBURG, Fla. – The owner of a local tree trimming service was sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to aggravated manslaughter of a child in the death of 14-year-old Blake Bryant.

Jonathan Wilkes faced the charge after allowing Bryant to climb a tree in Middleburg in 2013 and to help cut it down. Bryant fell to his death

The Clay County Sheriff's Office and OSHA investigated and filed the charge against Wilkes, who was then 37 years old.

Clay County deputies said Bryant was working with acquaintances for the John Wilkes Tree Service at a home in the 4200 area of Scenic Drive in Middleburg.

Bryant (pictured, right) climbed a tree on the property and was cutting off a section of the tree with a chainsaw when he accidentally cut through his safety harnesses and fell to the dirt ground below, deputies said.

Bryant was flown from a landing zone at Omega Park off County Road 218 to UF Health Jacksonville, where he died.

Clay County detectives were told the teen was assisting on this one project but did not normally work for the company. The teen's parents were friends with the tree service's owner.