Few details have emerged in the death of Aaron Henderson, the Florida man run over by his coworker driving a bulldozer as he used a port-a-potty, but only after Atlanta Black Star’s probe into the investigation, did authorities make a crucial move on the case.
As the anniversary of his death draws near, the lingering investigation leaves his family wondering why it is taking so long to get answers.
“We’re just dealing and praying for justice,” Henderson’s sister Melissa Harvey said.
Henderson worked at the North Central Landfill in Winter Haven, Florida. On March 4, 2022, he was wrapping up his shift directing dump trucks in and out of the landfill. Around 5 p.m. he went to use the bathroom in a port-a-potty on the landfill site. At the same time, his coworker, John Johnson, 56, was driving a bulldozer to park it for the night.
Johnson would tell investigators he drove the bulldozer up an embankment to a heavy equipment staging area to park it for the night. Once he reached level ground, he began to turn the bulldozer and then noticed that he had run over the port-a-potty Henderson was using which was located near the staging area, he told authorities.
The sheriff’s office previously said, the bulldozer blade was elevated off the ground 3 to 4 feet when the incident happened.
Henderson was found trapped inside the crushed port-a-potty and was pronounced dead at the scene by EMS.
Nearly a year later, Henderson’s family is left with the same questions they had when the tragedy first haunted them. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office has not made any arrests and said the investigation has been open and active since March 4 of last year.
Throughout 2022, the Sheriff’s Office has consistently claimed it was awaiting the results of an autopsy by the Polk County Medical Examiner before it could complete its investigation and determine if any criminal charges would be filed.
“There hasn’t been no progress at all,” Harvey told Atlanta Black Star.
Since Henderson’s death, his family waited patiently for answers from authorities. As 2022 came to a close, Henderson’s mother also passed away. Harvey said their mother died “with a broken heart.”
Atlanta Black Star contacted the sheriff’s office on Feb. 14 to learn if any progress has been made in the case. A spokeswoman told us the investigation is still ongoing.
“Once we get the autopsy report from the Medical Examiner, we will include it in our report and the entire thing will be closed and become public record.”
The spokesperson then added, “I don’t know why it would take that long,” to complete the autopsy report.
Atlanta Black Star requested Henderson’s autopsy from the Polk County Medical Examiner’s Office and received it less than 24 hours later.
The autopsy revealed Henderson experienced blunt force trauma throughout his body as a result of the bulldozer hitting the port-a-potty. The medical examiner listed “lacerations, contusions, abrasions and skeletal fractures” as some of the injuries Henderson suffered leading to his death.
“It is my opinion that Aaron Henderson died as a result of multiple blunt force traumatic injuries, due to pedestrian vs. bulldozer collision,” Dr. Stephen Nelson said in his medical examiner report.
He went on to declare Henderson’s manner of death as an “accident.”
Atlanta Black Star followed up with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office regarding the autopsy it took them nearly a year to obtain. The spokeswoman said in an email, “The entire report from the M.E. was not complete until they received toxicology back on Mr. Henderson.”
The autopsy was performed on March 7, 2022. The toxicology report was received by the medical examiner’s office on May 31. It revealed Henderson had oxycodone in his system at the time of death. There is no indication that the report changes the medical examiner’s finding that Henderson’s death was the result of being crushed by a bulldozer.
After Atlanta Black Star’s media requests, the spokesperson went on to say investigators were prompted to call the Polk County Medical Examiner to “ask why we don’t have the final copy yet, and we learned that it was sent to us on February 8th” of 2023.
The sheriff’s office now says Henderson’s investigation should be completed in a few days.
Carl Soto is an advocate for Henderson’s family. He’s also co-founder and vice president at Black Lives Matter Restoration Polk Inc. He says the family has lacked faith in the Polk County Sheriff’s Office to undergo a thorough investigation.
“[We have] no faith in the Sheriff’s Office to do a fair impartial investigation,” Soto said.
“The law says its culpable negligence. You can’t get in a bulldozer without a spotter, run over a port-a-potty and say ‘Oh, it was an accident,’” Soto added.
The autopsy report listed Henderson as Johnson’s spotter at the time of the accident. The spotter stands outside the bulldozer helping the driver navigate as the driver’s view can be obstructed by the blade in front.
Soto also accused Johnson of violating OSHA safety standards which require a spotter be present while the heavy machinery is in operation.
“He chose to maneuver this bulldozer alone without a spotter, at the end of the shift and unfortunately his choice was negligent because he deviated from OSHA guidelines and regulations and his choice resulted in the death of Mr. Henderson,” Soto said.
In the days following Henderson’s death, many questioned if Johnson and Henderson were having trouble getting along. Henderson’s brother Leonard told Atlanta Black Star there were issues and deputies should have done more.
“It ain’t just started, him and this guy, so that’s why I’m trying to understand why the police, the investigation, why y’all ain’t following up on that,” Leonard said.
The Polk County sheriff told news outlets at the time of the incident, “there was no evidence of an ongoing conflict at this stage of the investigation,” Grady Judd said.
Soto believes the sheriff’s office may be protecting Johnson and would not be surprised if their investigation pins responsibility on what happened on Henderson.
“The Sheriff’s Office will try to blame Aaron,” Soto said.
Meanwhile, CertiTemp, the temporary labor company contracted to send Henderson and Johnson to the county-owned landfill, did not immediately return Atlanta Black Star’s media requests to learn if Johnson was still employed by the company.
Henderson’s family hired attorney Eric Taylor of Tampa, Florida, to represent them with an ongoing wrongful death lawsuit that is pending.
“Everybody is trying to get over the loss of my brother and then my mother. His kids are still dealing with the loss of their dad. It’s hard,” Harvey said.
As the conclusion to the year-long investigation draws near, social media users are drawing their own conclusions on what really happened and why.
“He waited until this guy went to use the bathroom, then he set his plan in motion,” Nursek RN wrote on Atlanta Black Star’s Facebook page.
“Look, even Ray Charles can see through that lie. He killed him on purpose!!” Lizzie Thompson wrote.
We will continue to update this story as it develops.