JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- For the first time, a local teenager paralyzed by a falling tree branch is speaking out.
The pictures are hard for Aubrey Stewart to look at. They remind him of a different life when he played sports and was able to be outside with friends. It's hard for Aubrey to even put a smile on his face now.
On June 27th, 2011, a large tree branch crashed down on Aubrey. At 15, he was paralyzed. He spent months in the hospital confined to a bed. Aubrey spent his 16th birthday there.
His family is angry and believes this accident should never have happened. "We called, neighbors called, no response," said his Aubrey's father, Joe Stewart.
Aubrey's family made calls about the city tree. He reported it was rotting and falling apart. They knew it was only a matter of time before something bad happened. "We knew it would happen, i just didn't think it would happen to my son," said Stewart.
In 2011, Action News discoverd the city knew about this problem tree 9 months before Aubrey's accident. City workers marked it to take down the dangerous tree, but it wasn't. Even after Aubrey was paralyzed, it was weeks before crews brought the tree down. We asked city leaders then why it took so long. "It can take anywhere from 6 months to a year," said the head of right away for public works on August 3, 2011.
The year Aubrey was hurt there were 405 trees on the dangerous list. Now, there are zero. After Action News pushed for answers, city leaders pushed for change. We talked with the Director of Public Works Jim Robinson about how they were able to get these trees down. "Couple reasons. We had some additional money in the budget for that and we also helped improve our work methods," said Robinson.
It was a simple change. They started taking down trees in one area of the city at the same time. These simple changes came too late for Aubrey. "Sometimes he just don't want to be living," said his father.
Now this teenagers emotional scars go deeper than the physical ones. His dreams of being an athlete are gone, his spirit is fragile, and just looking out the window of his home is a painful reminder of a split second, that changed his life forever. "If it would've never happened, I would've had my old life," said Aubrey in a video done by the Law Firm of Pajcic and Pajcic.
The Stewart family has filed a lawsuit against the City of Jacksonville. It is still working its way through the court system. Aubrey's attorney tells me the economic damages and medical bills for the rest of Aubrey's life is in the millions of dollars.
An account has been set up in Aubrey's name at Wells Fargo and the account number to make a donation is 1387631656.