Florida contractor dies following troubling
events and distressing news
May 26, 2010 - A distraught tower contracting company owner passed away Monday around noon after suffering a number of stressful events during the past month.
Donald R. (Donnie) Suhl, Sr., President of North Florida Tower Service of Lake City, Fla. was pronounced dead by authorities at his S.E. Press Ruth Dr. home.
After working in the tower construction industry for a number of years, Suhl, 58, founded North Florida Tower over 25 years ago.
He thrived during the early cellular days and migrated along with others into more challenging and competitive PCS projects. Dedicated customers were a mainstay of his business and Suhl successfully managed his company from the office located in his home.
Company was citation free
His firm never had a fatality and was OSHA citation free, according to the administration's database. He knew personally a number of climbers who had fallen from a communications tower and died, one of them having previously been employed by him, according to one of his employees.
The loving and dedicated husband and father to his wife and children would captivate listeners with his tall tales, and his passion for fishing and golfing was infectious. He coached bowling and baseball in the community, was an avid Gator fan, and cherished his boat, the “Inst-A-Gator”.
He was excited about attending his 40th high school class reunion on June 18 and 19 in Centralia, Ill., and catch up with his many friends as they regaled each other with memories of the Orphans Football Team and life's enjoyments since 1970.
However, on May 4, Suhl received a phone call that began a series of distressing events that may have contributed to his passing.
The call was the one that every owner fears no matter how vigilant their safety protection program is practiced and enforced - notification of a crew member's death.
His employee, 36-year-old Joseph "Kojak" White of Hawthorne, was working 240 feet up on a 400-foot guyed tower when he fell to his death in Dixie County.
Badly shaken by White's death, Suhl worked closely with OSHA in the fatality investigation. The agency said it has not released its report regarding the incident, but an employee knowledgeable of the investigation, said it appears that OSHA believes his company was compliant with its safety program.
Suhl grieved with White's family and held a grief counseling session with his crews.
On Friday he turned 58, but any birthday celebration was tempered by news that he received days earlier that a family member from Illinois, whom he was very close to, was terminally ill.
Monday morning he was driving from the local hardware store and his car was struck by a tractor trailer, but he walked away unscathed.
His wife Sonya picked him up and they had lunch. She dropped him off at home and went to the bank.
When she returned at approximately 1:00 p.m. she couldn't find him and after searching the house went to their backyard to find him deceased.
Suhl's unbearable pain had ended.
"He was a no nonsense, didn't tolerate a lot type of guy, but he was a very fair person and lived life to its fullest," said Ricky Davis, Suhl's supervisor/foreman. "He was a standup guy."
Davis helped Suhl grow the business during the past 20 years and said current plans are to keep the company operating until they can assess what options would be best for the business.
"We all dread thinking that we could get a call about a worker's death," Davis said, deeply saddened by Suhl's passing, "but yesterday's call about Don was something you would never, ever expect."
Although Suhl had a number of competitors in his market, they spoke highly of the Illinois transplant that came to Florida through employment with AT&T. He worked for AT&T for 19 years and retired in 1991
"Don always had a great story to tell either about his start in the tower business or a fishing story, and no matter what it was, it was always interesting," said Robbie Diamond of Quality Tower Erectors, Inc. of Largo.
"He was always in a great mood; I never saw him in a bad mood. And the happiest I ever saw him was when his son was born," said Mike Parrish, a former tower manufacturer's sales representative who fondly recalled meeting Suhl during his first sales call when he entered the industry in 1989.
"I stumbled a lot, and Don said, 'Looks like you need some help.' I was a little embarrassed because a customer was telling me how to write up a quote. But he was eager to assist me and I believe that strong desire to lend a hand to folks helped many of us to grow within this industry," Parrish said.
Survivors include his beloved wife, Sonya Suhl, his son Donald, Jr., and his daughter, Jennifer Bedenbaugh; three sisters, Sally and Norman Tiemann, Richview, IL; Judy and Jon Seger and Kathy Shanafelt, Centralia, IL.
The family will receive friends and family at their home at 1059 SE Press Ruth Drive from 5:00-7:00 p.m. on Thursday, May 27.
Graveside services will be held at Forest Lawn Cemetery at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, May 28. In Lieu of flowers, donations will be accepted at Lake City Youth Bowling Scholarship Fund in memorial of Don Suhl, Post Office Box 7007, Lake City, FL 32056.