My son Jake called yesterday very upset, telling me about an oak tree falling and killing a counselor at Camp Tawonga near Yosemite, CA. My son graduated with a degree in Environmental Studies and Economics from UC Santa Cruz last June and worked the summer at Camp Tawonga. He loved working there and returned for some part time work last fall.
What was chilling was his description of the exact location where the tree fell, he said he often sat nearby the spot and even sat under the tree! He knew the counselor, Annais Rittenberg from UC Santa Cruz, where he also took the environmental field course his senior year. Needless to say, he is shocked by what happened.
As a certified arborist, I provide tree risk assessments, a process of tree investigation and analysis that rates a tree defects and determines the hazard potential of a tree part or whole tree failure. I have worked with plaintiff and defendant attorneys concerning tree failures and accidents, yet this accident struck very close to home. I keep thinking about how that easily could have been my son under that oak tree when it failed.
Who knows if this failure could have been predicted? My son mentioned how the area where the tree was located was irrigated daily throughout the summer, he said the tree trunk split and fell. Was there root rot, cavities, or decay in the trunk? Was the crown showing signs of stress? Would a risk assessment have determined the tree was structurally unstable? Maybe yes or no, I certainly don’t want to speculate, as I do not know the facts.
Tree failures resulting in human fatalities are very low, yet it only takes one failure to change lives forever. My heart and sympathies to the family for the terrible loss.
This should serve as a reminder to camps, recreational facilities, golf courses, R.V. parks and manufactured housing communities to inventory and inspect your tree assets on your property, common spaces and even notify homeowners of endangered trees on their private lots or property. Facility owners who take proactive measures to inspect, inventory, assess and maintain their tree assets increase the chance of detecting and minimizing tree related accidents before they happen.