President of local real estate firm pleads not guilty to charges stemming from tree trimmer's death

SAN DIEGO - The president of a La Mesa-based business that buys and renovates houses pleaded not guilty Wednesday to several criminal charges, including violating safety standards, stemming from a fatal tree-trimming accident last year.

David Scott Wolfe and his company, Three Frogs Inc., are charged with a violation of OSHA standards in connection with the Nov. 12 accident that killed Joshua Pudsey.

Pudsey, 42, was trimming trees using a cherry picker outside the La Mesa home of his employer when a large branch from a 60-foot eucalyptus tree fell on him, crushing his head.

Wolfe and two of his employees, Chief Financial Officer Jonathan D. Cox and Chief Operating Officer John Murphy, also face charges of unemployment insurance fraud and failure to have workers' compensation insurance.

Wolfe, 48, faces 6 1/2 years in prison if convicted. Cox, 34, and Murphy, 36, face nearly five years behind bars if convicted, while Three Frogs could be fined up to $1.5 million, said prosecutor Jeanie Cetlinski.

Judge Jeffrey Fraser scheduled a readiness conference for July 8 and a preliminary hearing for Aug. 26.

After court, Pudsey's mother told reporters, "I'm afraid that I'm not going to be the only mother who loses her son up a tree because somebody didn't follow the rules and get the licensing and hire professionals; that they cut corners and they saved a couple of pennies. Ultimately, I can tell you it's costing them a hell of a lot more now than it would have had they hired a professional to trim that tree initially."

And she spoke of the child due next month: "I'm never going to see my son again and the best I can hope for is my grandson is taken care of."

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