Branch Falls on Tourist as She Walks Through Central Park
By JOSEPH GOLDSTEIN and RANDY LEONARD
Published: June 11, 2013
A 59-year-old tourist from Indiana was seriously injured on Tuesday afternoon when she was struck by a falling tree branch in Central Park, the authorities reported.
The woman was hospitalized in serious condition with head injuries, said Frank Dwyer, a Fire Department spokesman. The accident happened shortly before 3:45 p.m., just a few hundred feet past the park entrance at West 86th Street.
The woman, who was walking with her husband at the time of the accident, was conscious and able to speak, the department said. The authorities did not release her name.
By late Tuesday afternoon, caution tape and barricades surrounded the accident site along the path, which was about 20 feet from the tree trunk. The branch appeared to have fallen some 40 feet.
When the branch fell, a number of children had been attending the birthday party of a 7-year-old a little ways off, a bystander, Donna Gitter, 46, said.
The Parks Department said the tree, a maple, appeared healthy. The authorities said it was too early to tell whether weather conditions had contributed to the accident.
Falling tree branches are a recurring danger in Central Park. In summer 2009, a 33-year-old Google engineer was hit by a rotten branch and suffered brain and spinal injuries.
Seven months later, a restaurant worker was killed. Not long after that a 6-month-old girl was killed in her mother’s arms in June 2010 when a tree branch fell on them from 30 feet above near the Central Park Zoo.
The injuries and deaths have raised questions about whether the city is doing enough to keep people safe from falling branches. A 2012 investigation by The New York Times found that officials assigned to oversee tree care were overworked and untrained, and that the system for addressing tree health was antiquated and haphazard.
In the case of the Google engineer, a park official ordered the branch that hit him removed 20 days before it fell. But because of a miscommunication with the park’s tree crew, it remained hanging precariously over the park’s 63rd Street entrance.
City lawyers have argued that with over two million trees in parks and along streets, public agencies cannot be held accountable every time a limb breaks and a branch falls.
Judges have sometimes disagreed. Over the last decade, at least 10 lawsuits have been filed on behalf of victims of falling branches. In some of those cases, the city has had to pay millions of dollars in compensation.
Michael Schwirtz contributed reporting.