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Tampa could pay $200,000 to family of man crushed by city front-end loader

TAMPA — City Hall could pay $200,000 to the family of a dump truck driver crushed last December by a front-end loader operated by a city employee.

Pablo R. Femenias, 52, of Tampa died about 6:30 a.m. on Dec. 28. He was driving a Mack dump truck for Wiggins Hauling and had just picked up a load of debris from a city loading station next to the wastewater treatment plant on Hooker's Point.

Police said Femenias pulled out, went about 40 feet and stopped directly behind where a city front-end loader was working, then got out of the truck and grabbed a shovel to clean up outside the truck.

City utility technician Gregory N. Robinson, then 46, was operating the front-end loader and spoke briefly with another driver, according to a police report.

That driver, also a city employee, told police he mentioned to Robinson that Femenias' truck was parked in a potentially unsafe spot.

Robinson told officers he went to back up and looked all around but did not see anyone. He said he thought Femenias might have gotten back into his truck. He began to back up and the loader stopped, making him think he might have backed into the truck. Surveillance video showed Femenias had just hung his shovel on the truck when he was hit and pinned against the dump truck.

When Robinson pulled forward, he saw Femenias on the ground, and he and another worker rushed to begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Femenias, who was born in Cuba and lived in Town 'N Country, died at the scene.

After the accident, an officer rode with Robinson, a city employee since 2007, to Tampa General Hospital so he could be checked for shock. City fleet maintenance employees tested the front-end loader and determined all of its equipment was operating properly.

Police concluded that what happened was an accident.

Robinson, who declined to talk to the Times about the incident or its aftermath, no longer works for the city. Two days after the accident, he was charged with DUI with property damage or injury after he was involved in a crash at U.S. 301 and Bloomingdale Avenue near Brandon.

On March 16, with the DUI case unresolved, the city fired him, citing moral turpitude as the reason. Robinson has pleaded not guilty, and the case is still pending.

Previously, Robinson had been reprimanded by the city three times for being absent without permission, insubordination or failing to follow instructions. He was suspended for two days in July 2015, partly because he was not wearing a hard hat at a work site and had to be asked to remove his headphones.

In a memo to the City Council, which will consider the settlement today, senior assistant city attorney William Terry recommends paying the $200,000 to settle a claim brought against the city by Femenias' family. In light of what happened, he said, a jury could hit the city with a larger verdict if the case went to trial.

But even in the case of a larger verdict, Florida's sovereign immunity law, which caps judgments against cities, would require an act of the Legislature for Femenias' family to receive more than $200,000.

Contact Richard Danielson at rdaniels[email protected] or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

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