Family sues California city after falling tree crushes teen

AP News
|
Posted: Dec 20, 2016 7:56 PM

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — At least four people in California have been killed when decaying trees have snapped over the past 16 months, including an Oakland teen whose family is suing the city over his death last December while he was climbing a tree.

The lawsuit filed Monday by the parents of 16-year-old Jack Lewis alleges that the tree was marked for removal because it was dead or dying, but city officials failed to remove it until after the boy's death.

The boy's father, Michael Lewis, said Tuesday that it's "terribly difficult" to get through Christmas without their son.

The family's attorney, John Winer, said shortly after the incident that Oakland city officials told the Lewis family that the tree could have been cut earlier, but arborists have many trees to monitor.

Alex Katz. a spokesman for the city attorney's office, said Tuesday the office could not comment because officials had not yet seen the lawsuit.

In addition to the four people killed in the state, two others were severely injured by decaying trees.

In August 2015, two teens were killed in Yosemite after an oak branch fell on their tent. A year later, a woman in San Francisco was paralyzed after a tree branch fell on her as she sat on a park bench.

Last Saturday, a 61-year-old woman was killed when a tree fell on a wedding party at a California park. She was the mother of the bride.

On Dec. 4, 2015, Lewis, a popular student and rower at Oakland Technical High School, was climbing in the tree in Oakland with several other minors when a limb broke, crushing his head in front of his friends.

Winer said the tree was popular among teenagers who frequently sat on a limb because it provided a great view of the sunset and nearby Lake Merritt.

"It seems virtually impossible for employees of the city of Oakland to not know that," the lawyer said. "At that time we believe it became crystal clear that the entire tree was dangerous and scheduled for removal with a distinctive blue marking that can be found on nearby tree stumps that were felled following the Lewis tragedy."

Certified urban forester and arborist Denice Britton said it's difficult for urban foresters to manage trees effectively, given the inadequate budgets they are provided for maintenance by governments.

In examining the area where Lewis died, Britton said she found other trees with dead tops and branches.

"I found trees with extensive decay that would be considered to have a probable chance of failing," she said.