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Falling tree limb kills Penney Farms man

Man driving on State Road 16 when oak tree limb hit car

GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. – A Clay County wife said she was still in shock, still in disbelief, that her husband was killed by a falling tree limb less than a mile away from their home.

William Joseph, 68, was heading to the store on State Road 16 in Penney Farms Tuesday night.

When he wasn't home hours later his wife thought he'd stopped to talk to his friends. Later that night, officers came to her door, and told her he was dead.

After the future of these high school sweethearts, married for 25 years, was cut short, a Jacksonville tree surgeon said that the tree showed signs of falling, long before it actually did.

As crews clean up what's left of the massive Live Oak, it's easy to see why it fell. Its insides rotted, with cracks along the trunk.

But before last night, no one had any idea this branch would fall, killing Joseph, a man who drove under its branches almost every day.

According to the Florida Highway patrol, Joseph was driving west on S.R. 16 just east of Saunders Road in his 2007 Ford Mustang just after 9 p.m.

Troopers said Joseph crashed his car after the tree limb fell and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

S.R. 16 was closed for several hours after the crash.

John McMahon, owner of Mac's Tree Service said that trees falling like this are not uncommon and people need to be aware of some warning signs to stay safe.

"The tree is not safe to be standing under. I mean this tree could go at any time. It doesn't have to be no wind, no nothing. I've seen a fall when it's dead calm because I've been doing this 43 years. The things will fall," McMahon said. 

McMahon said there is a reason trees like this get into the shape that they're in. 

"It's just the result of old lightning strikes. I mean this tree is anywhere from 80 to 225, maybe 250 years old. Lightning strikes over time run down over the center and the heart of the tree and causes it to rot out. At least once a year these trees need to be inspected," McMahon said. 

McMahon said that some warning signs to look for are if you see a new break surrounded by old growth that looks like it's trying to heal or grow over the break. That's a major sign that the tree is not safe. 

The community is now dealing with a heartbreaking and unexpected loss, and the reality of what could happen on a trip down this road, a road many say they still plan to use.

With so many streets surround by large old trees McMahon said that the community can make a big impact on keeping themselves and others safe. If people are walking by the tree and see something like a crack or rot, call the city and report the tree.