SHELBY TOWNSHIP, Mich. -

Shelby Township police say a man was killed Tuesday in a tree-trimming accident.

Shawn Needham, 45, had been a tree trimmer for more than 26 years. He owned Fella's Tree Service. He was killed on the job when he was caught in a chipper.

Lynn Pace, Needham's girlfriend and coworker, said she was working with him when the tragedy happened.

"I was looking out for him and he seemed fine," said Pace. "I went to sweep some more. I heard the chipper make a funny noise."

She thought the equipment had jammed.

"When I got close to the chipper, another gentleman told me there was a man in the chipper. That was my Shawn. I ran over and shut it off. I was too late. There was nothing anybody could do," she said.

State investigators are talking to witnesses and examining the wood chipper.

Pace says Needham was always careful around the chipper, but she wonders if his work load may have played a role. She explains that he had been forced to accept low bids, which barely covered his bills. He was several months behind in his rent.

"It was 9:30. Normally the chipper would be shut down already. We were trying to finish before dark. He was rushing to get paid and go on to the next job."

Needham had been in the tree trimming business for 26 years. He is survived by two daughters and a grandson.

Pace says he was a kindhearted, giving man in spite of his work-related stress.

"He would give you the shirt right off his back. Any time, any day you needed something, Shawn Needham was there," she said.

Pace said she was going to return to the work site, less than a day after the fatal accident.

"I have to finish that job to pay for Shawn's funeral."