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MARATHON, December 6, 2019 – A Key Largo man who illegally deposited tree limbs and branches along U.S. 1 in the immediate months following Hurricane Irma has been convicted of felony dumping.
In a trial by court December 4, Acting Circuit Court Judge Ruth Becker convicted Brian Walker, 56, of the third-degree felony, saying Walker wasn’t credible and “the evidence … is overwhelming.” Assistant State Attorney Kelly Dugan represented the state. Sentencing is pending a pre-sentencing investigation.
Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Jose Hernandez arrested Walker on December 2, 2017, at mile marker 58 of U.S. 1 after the Sheriff’s Office received a call from someone saying he drove by what appeared to be illegal dumping occurring. The Category 4 Hurricane Irma struck the Keys on September 10, 2017, and Monroe County banned dumping of hurricane debris for collection along U.S. 1 at the end of that November.
When Hernandez arrived at the scene of the dumping, he found Walker in the driver’s seat of a Ford F-250 with a black trailer attached parked just off U.S. 1. Directly behind the trailer was the pile of tree limbs and branches. Tire tracks beginning under the debris pile led directly to the back of the open-air trailer. The debris pile was 40 feet long, 12 feet wide and 8 feet tall, exceeding the 100 cubic feet in volume that makes it a felony, then-Deputy Jamie Buxton (now a Key Colony Beach police officer) testified.
Hernandez testified the debris “was green, it wasn’t all gray, dead” like surrounding hurricane debris. Buxton testified the pile “had fresh [tree] limbs and trees,” and a green leaf she found in the trailer matched green leaves in the pile.
Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Jonas Corell said he saw the truck and trailer with debris sticking out of it on the side of the road as he drove to a crash southbound. When he later was driving north, he saw Hernandez and Buxton with the same truck and trailer and pulled over, telling them the trailer had previously been full.
Another witness, Doug Lewis, then with the Grubbs Emergency Services disaster-response firm and who made the initial call to the Sheriff’s Office, said he saw the “fresh pile of debris … that showed up that day.” It was “very square, very fresh” and in the shape of the trailer.
At first, Walker told Hernandez he was “going to the dump in Marathon to dump trash.” But there wasn’t anything in the empty trailer to dump, only the debris pile behind it. He then changed his story, saying he was going to a friend’s house north of mile marker 58 to pick up more debris, but the truck and trailer were parked southbound. He changed his story again to say he was heading to Home Depot in Marathon to buy mulch.
At trial, Walker changed his story yet again, saying his friend who owns the truck and trailer had called him for assistance with a tire and he was in the area so he stopped by in his own truck to help. But video from Hernandez’s body-worn camera shows Walker admit he was driving the truck towing the trailer.
Defense attorney Jay Hershoff argued that Walker never admitted to the dumping and none of the witnesses in the case said they saw Walker actually dumping the debris, but the judge found the evidence supporting the state’s case more than enough for conviction.
A second person charged in the case pleaded no contest and received two years of probation in April. That person has since died.