South Carolina

Upstate tree trimmer suffocated after becoming trapped, disoriented 70 feet above ground

Oconee County coroner Karl Addis has determined that 57-year-old David Wayne Vaughn’s death on Monday was an accident caused by “positional asphyxiation.”

Vaughn, an arborist from Walhalla, was working alone on Monday trimming high branches in a tree on private property.

The property’s owner told authorities he went outside to check on Vaugn after he realized he didn’t hear the sound of the saw any more. He found that Vaughn, who had started the job about 8 a.m., trapped high in the tree; One of his legs was wedged in a fork of tree limbs.

It took Vaughn an hour to free himself and remove his climbing spikes in preparation to rappel down to the ground, Addis said in a news release.

The property owner said Vaughn now appeared disoriented and a short time later, Vaughn was unresponsive while still hanging in the tree, suspended by his climbing harness and ropes between 60 and 70 feet off the ground.

“His upper body arched backwards into a slightly inverted position compromising his ability to breathe,” Addis said.

A rescue crew from the Pickett Post-Camp Oak Fire department found no sign of life after they lowered Vaughn to the ground.

Vaughn was dehydrated and had signs of a minor head injury that could have been caused by a falling limb, Tuesday’s autopsy determined.

“These two events could have altered his ability to self-rescue himself,” Addis said.