Falling tree leads to jail sentence

By Mary Elizabeth Williams-Villano

Unlicensed, uninsured landscape crew caused injuries and damaged property.

A falling tree and other violations has landed the owner of an Akron, Ohio tree-trimming and yard maintenance business behind bars, according to a story reported by FOX8, Cleveland. Cory Howard, owner of Alternative Property Maintenance, has been sentenced to serve 18 months in jail on charges of felony theft and forgery as well as misdemeanor charges of falsification, obstruction of official business and operating without a county vendor’s license.

Howard’s company was hired by 83-year-old George Homa to remove a very large storm-damaged poplar tree from his backyard last November, agreeing to pay $3,000 for the service. But on the day of the removal, he began to worry that Howard’s workers weren’t doing things correctly. Unfortunately, he was right.

“I was on my way back to the house when I heard this loud back-cut they did to the tree with this four-foot chainsaw,” said Homa.

The tree ended up falling the wrong way, crushing Homa’s house and leaving Homa himself with a broken leg, pelvis, shoulder and spine along with some fractured ribs.

The crew vanished after the incident, and the Homa family tried in vain to get hold of anyone from the company. Howard’s crew members lacked valid identification and the truck they were driving had expired plates, according to officials. When Summit County Prosecutor Bevan Walsh began looking into the accident, he discovered that Alternative had operated under several alternative names. The company was also uninsured.

Walsh eventually identified Howard as the owner of the company, and he surrendered to authorities in February. When Howard was contacted by FOX8 back in November, he claimed that he worked for someone named Brian Jones.

At his sentencing, Howard told the judge he wasn’t present when the accident happened and that he never spoke to Homa. He also said that he didn’t know his workers had even taken the job, and that he was sorry Homa was injured.

“I would have never allowed that to happen,” Howard said. “I messed up, I got workers that I thought I could trust but I couldn’t, I see now. I never told this man I had a license, I never told him I had any insurance.”

But Judge Tammy O’Brien said she doesn’t believe Howard’s story. “You are the owner and the one responsible,” said O’Brien. “Frankly, we have not just Mr. Homa but an additional victim and I don’t believe that you didn’t know what your workers were doing that day.”

“Any decent human being would have been there trying to help in any way that they could following this accident, if not with Mr. Homa’s injuries, but with the property damages and the cleanup,” the judge continued.

The family has had to pay thousands of dollars for Homa’s medical care and for repair work on their home in the aftermath of the tree crash. But they said they were satisfied with the judge’s ruling and hope that others learn from their experience.

Homa’s daughter, Lore Creque said “We’re grateful that they invested the time and the funds because this could have been a small blip on the radar. We know that we’re not the only ones that suffered a loss like this.”

“Definitely look into the background of the company and verify that everything is what they say it is,” she said.