The tragic death last month of a 6-year-old boy who was struck by a falling oak branch should cause all of us to take a closer look at our trees, not only those growing on our own property but also the heritage oaks that populate the city street rights of way.
In response to the accident, the tree located in the 700 block of South High Street was removed. We think that was a prudent decision, especially since the tree had shed an additional limb after losing the one that proved fatal to Giovanni Cano, who lived nearby.
City manager Vince DiPiazza lamented the child’s death and offered that due to budgetary constraints the “city’s tree maintenance activity has been mostly reactive.” He added that when citizens identify a problem with one of the 26 additional trees that grow in city street rights of way, it usually involves trimming or cleaning up after fallen limbs.
Giovanni’s death came after he followed his 12-year-old cousin in search of firewood for a family cookout. Evidently the 12-year-old girl pulled on the already-broken branch, which fell on top of the boy.
The problem tree had been reported by a patrol officer earlier in the day to the Uvalde Police Department’s dispatch center, but no response had been forthcoming, probably because it was a Sunday.
To say the tragedy was a freak accident is an understatement. We don’t recall this newspaper ever reporting a fatality caused by a tree located on city property. But when such an incident occurs, it is clearly a sign that a new kind of liability has raised its ugly head.
As we said in the beginning, it is incumbent on all of us to monitor our trees, especially in times of drought when stress on all living things is magnified. At the same time, we don’t advocate a random removal of the stately trees that have earned us a “Tree City” designation. One rotten apple doesn’t spoil the entire barrel, but it should cause us to look more closely at the things growing above our heads.