WASHINGTON – Danny Williams died under his beloved banyan tree. Joanne Hawkins, 82, and her 83-year-old husband, Gordon, wouldn't leave their trailer. They were among the 17 people whose deaths have been blamed on Hurricane Charley (search), according to officials in Florida.
Williams, 25, died outside his North Fort Myers house when the tree fell on him Friday, authorities said.
Family members said Williams had felt most at peace under the branches of the big tree in the backyard. They called the 55-year-old tree "Danny's Domain" because Williams spent hours after work there, everyday. He furnished a shed beneath it with a sofa, TV, VCR and fans.
Friends visited him there. He took naps there. Watched movies, talked on his cell phone, and often drank sweet iced tea from a quart container.
"The tree gave him sanctuary," said Mike Nichols, a cousin.
Williams had just come back from discussing the hurricane with a neighbor: "He told us not to worry about the storm because his tree would cushion the wind and protect us," Katheryn Green said.
Two hours after neighbors called 911, a paramedic arrived with a floodlight. As night fell, Nichols and the paramedic scaled the huge root ball of the tree.
The paramedic shone his light on the gashes of the crushed shed, until he spotted Williams.
"He's dead," the paramedic told Nichols.
In Punta Gorda, the Hawkinses were found dead a few hundred feet from where their mobile home had stood. Gordon Hawkins used a wheelchair and had Alzheimer's disease and diabetes.
Neighbors said they weren't surprised that the couple decided to stay. "She was a stubborn old cuss, I'll tell you she was," neighbor Cecilia Carr said of her close friend Joanne Hawkins. "She did exactly what she wanted to do."
Their son, Richard, 64, was found farther away with serious injuries, neighbors said.
"They were the sweetest, most caring couple," Carr said. "They were going to celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary on December 29th, renew their vows, you know."
The following is a county-by-county look at the deaths:
POLK COUNTY, five deaths:
— Jerry Padgett Jr., 61, of Lake Wales, after his truck drove into a washed-out section of a road and flipped over, sending the vehicle about 35 feet down an embankment, said the sheriff's department said. The truck was found partially submerged early Saturday.
— Robert Banks, 50, and his 33-year-old stepson, Michael Thompson, found dead in their beds in Winter Haven, apparently poisoned by carbon monoxide from an emergency generator, authorities said.
— Anthony Turk, 65, of Haines City, whose pre-existing heart disease was compounded by the hurricane Friday night, authorities said.
— Jerry Allen Kane, 61, of Dundee, found dead in his car early Saturday. Because the air conditioning in his home failed, he decided to sit in his running car, where it was cooler. But Kane did not have the oxygen tank he normally used with him, and when his wife came out to the vehicle, he was dead, authorities said.
CHARLOTTE COUNTY, four deaths:
— The Hawkinses in Punta Gorda.
— No details available on the two other deaths.
ORANGE COUNTY, two deaths:
— Eight-year-old Camille Celina Vilar of St. Cloud, in a car crash on the Bee Line Expressway in east Orange, according to an uncle. Willie Gonzalez. Authorities said the girl was killed when a tractor-trailer lost control in the wind Friday and rolled on the car driven by her father.
— No details were available on the second victim.
VOLUSIA COUNTY, two deaths:
— Patrick Haley, 44, of Palm Coast, Saturday afternoon when a tree fell on him while he was helping relatives clean up in Florida Shores, authorities said. Haley was clearing a tree from a roof at a family member's home when the accident occurred.
— An unidentified woman electrocuted Saturday after stepping on a downed power line in Daytona Beach.
LEE COUNTY, one death:
— Williams in North Fort Myers.
SARASOTA COUNTY, one death:
— Karen Ryan, 56, of Nokomis was driving south on Interstate 75 in Venice, when she lost control in the rough weather Friday and struck a tree.
DESOTO COUNTY, one death:
— An unidentified man from flying debris, authorities said.
OSCEOLA COUNTY, one death:
— A person was killed in a car accident early Monday south of Orlando, said Guy Tunnell, chief of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He did not have any additional details, but authorities said it was related to the hurricane.