Tragedy Strikes As Fallen Tree Branch Kills Mother at Slide Hill Park

Courtesy photos

By David M. Greenwald

A warm but breezy late-February day in Davis turned tragic as a 41-year-old mother took her young daughter to Slide Hill Park to play when, around 10:25, a tree branch struck her, critically injuring her.

Police and fire responded, and provided her with immediate medical attention.  She was transported to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento where she succumbed to injuries and passed away.

“The City of Davis extends its deepest sympathies to the surviving family and will work diligently to investigate this tragic accident,” said Mayor Gloria Partida in a statement from the city.

High winds and dry conditions may have contributed to the tragedy.

Deputy Police Chief Paul Doroshov told the Vanguard that the police went out and gathered as much information as possible with the caveat that they are not tree experts.  Their plan is to hand what evidence they gathered over to the experts to better determine the cause for tragedy.

“She was there with her daughter, and her daughter was playing in the sandbox when it happened,” said Paul Doroshov.

One thing they will look at: “Is there a kind of infestation problem or whether it is more of a freak occurrence where you have a healthy tree and the integrity of the branch gave out.”

He explained that when fire and police arrived, the victim was still under the branch.  They were able to get the branch off of her, then began CPR and transported her to the medical center.

“She was pretty severely injured from the get-go, they were just trying to save her life all the way up to the med center,” he explained.

Doroshov estimated the branch was at least 30 feet long, fairly thick at the base.  The entire branch came down in one piece and had to be cut up to get rid of it.

The branch took out a portion of the table which has dinosaur bones on it.

“It came down with enough force to take out a portion of the table,” Doroshov said explaining that it was actually steel reinforced.

While there have been some concerns about the city’s tree canopy expressed, especially in dry years, city officials seemed to downplay the overall risk on Tuesday.  They noted that this was the first tragedy of this kind, in their experience.

“From a cop’s perspective, I would never say it’s 100 percent safe to take your kids anywhere,” Doroshov explained.  “Is there a problem on the other hand?  In 30 years, this is the first time I have ever seen a fatal event like this.”

The Vanguard received reports of a large tree branch down at Central Park on Monday, but no one was injured.  Last spring a large tree branch went down in a Greenbelt in South Davis, narrowly missing pedestrians walking down the street.

“We have had tree branches go down, that’s just common in nature, through storms and things, but I have never seen an event like this” Doroshov said.  “I would venture to guess the problem is really uncommon.”

“I am extremely saddened by this tragedy,” Mayor Partida told the Vanguard, “My thoughts as well as the whole city’s are with the family. The City  will diligently investigate this incident. The City takes the safety of it citizens very seriously. We have regular schedules for inspections of public infrastructure, including trees.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Alan Miller

    Heartbreaking local event.

    Trees are very weird in how they fail.  I witnessed a massive tree fail in a huge storm.  The family had abandoned their house and backed away from the tree about 100′, and when it failed it fell straight at them in the street and I had just pulled up and the top of the tree just missed them and the shock wave from the fall was so powerful it shook my Jeep.

    A few years ago I had just walked out into my side yard one still, calm, warm night – and with no seeming prompt there was this massive, sickening cracking sound and about 1/3 of this giant old black walnut tree completely failed and just missed hitting my house.  No wind whatsoever.

    Either could have been fatal – one in a storm, one with no wind.  Strikes from tree failure – or falling airplane engine parts – fatalities rare and so random.

  2. Keith Y Echols

    I was just at Slide Hill Park with my kids the day before the accident.  Scary stuff.  I feel so bad for the child and her family.

    There were many trees down in Community Park after the last wind storm.  Up until a week or so ago there was still a large branch that was on the ground that had crashed into the Rainbow City playground (it crushed part of the surrounding fence).

    I know the city’s budget is probably pretty tight right now but I hope they re-evaluate tree maintenance policies.

    1. Bill Marshall

      City tree crews were slashed from the budget years ago to “send a message” to DCEA.   I think the City still has an Arborist, but do you realize how many trees there are in Davis?  Even if you only count parks and greenbelts?

      And there is the ‘Street Tree Commission’… even for a grossly mis-shapen tree on a greenbelt, threatening to destroy a room or two next door, it took 1 week to get the Arborist to take a look at it, he decided it was indeed hazardous, but had to go to the Commission to get permission to have it removed… took nearly 6 months to get that approved, then another 3 weeks to hire the private contractor to remove it… a bunch of ‘druids’ on the Commission…

      Don’t blame City Staff… talk to the CC… less influence by Commission, more resources for tree trimming crews…

      1. Keith Y Echols

        Yeah, it doesn’t surprise me that there’s a lot of bureaucracy and understaffing.  I get that there are a lot of trees to manage and maintain.  But I think the staff and council should prioritize streamlining some of these things.  They’re not going to be able to get to every single city tree.  Or even every single city tree in the parks and greenbelts.  But they could prioritize the trees in places people frequently gather… playgrounds, picnic areas (Slide Hill has a picnic area under a canopy of trees), baseball/softball fields (Community Park), tennis courts, swimming areas (I’m thinking of Manor Pool)…etc….

      2. Matt Williams

        While Bill’s comment is technically correct … the number of tree employees who receive wages from the City is one, the tree maintenance service is actually still being provided, but the employees are of the tree-trimming company that has the contract from the City for providing the service.

        Said another way, the tree-trimming service is not “in sourced” but is “out sourced.”

        1. Bill Marshall

          While Matt is technically correct, it is my understanding is that the out-sourced services do not include routine or other inspections/tree health appraisal services… basically complaint/concern driven… which gets back to Tia’s good advice… if you see something, say something…

  3. Tia Will

    I also send my condolences to the family.

    I would also call for specific action on the part of the citizenry. If you see something, say something. Yes, there can be delays, but there are also times when there is immediate action. A couple of years ago, I was walking east on 5th street along a heavily shaded stretch between L and the police department. I noted a fairly large limb was hanging precariously over the bike/pedestrian path. I was close to the police station, walked in, and reported it to the front desk. She took the information, called it in immediately, and by the time I was walking back about an hour later, a crew had dealt with it.


    1. Bill Marshall

      If you see something, say something.

      ABSOLUTELY!  I’m no arborist, but can recognize badly formed crotches (tree term, not the other [that would be off-topic])… I can recognize big limbs, no, or withered leaves… all are potential “widow(er)-makers”… high heat can cause ‘avulsions’, with moments notice… when we camp, I always check nearby trees, BEFORE pitching the tent… winds, over-saturated soils, can cause whole trees to topple, and may Yahweh, God/Allah/’dumb luck’ protect folk when that happens…

      Good advice, Tia… applies to other civic facilities as well… after all, WE are the Community…

      To reiterate what Tia reccomends, “IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING!”… to the proper channels, not on a blog…

      Thank you Tia, for sound advice and direction… I do that, as well…

      1. Alan Miller

        In both examples I gave above, as well as a limb that crushed my neighbor’s car – there was no indication of imminent failure that a lay person would have seen.

  4. Tia Will


    I absolutely agree that most times, there will be no layperson detectable visual clue in advance. The reason I wrote is that preceding comments had been about delays in action which I am sure frequently occur. I wrote to demonstrate that when the risk is felt to be imminent, which I confirmed at the time I made the report, the city is capable of making a very fast response.

  5. Jim Frame

    FWIW, in the last five years I’ve done two forensic surveys for fatal tree incident investigations, one in Calaveras County, one in Solano County.  I don’t know if they’re happening more often or not, but they do happen.

  6. Dave Hart

    Branches break and fall off of trees.  Most of the time, nobody is around.  This is a tragedy and not one for which blame can easily be assigned.  I do know that during the summer months, we all value the tree canopy.  Do we, as a community, believe there should be no risk associated with having a tree canopy that is dense enough to provide the shade we desire when temperatures rise above 95?  A three year old child went to the park with her mother and, hopefully, will not remember the event; but, she will come to accept that her mother isn’t coming home again.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Remeber Dave H, when temps are high, many trees have significant avulsions of large limbs, even with no wind at all… think of kettles with no easy release to atmosphere… but you are correct… although they happen, it is pretty rare when they happen when a person (or  even a car)is in ‘harms way’… this is tragic, indeed… particularly for immediate family… but rare occurence…

      I fully agree with Tia and others, that particularly when a passing occurs suddenly, unexpectedly, the tragic impact on family and close friends is often devastating to the survivors… my thoughts and prayers go to them as they deal with their loss/grief.

    2. Keith Y Echols

       Do we, as a community, believe there should be no risk associated with having a tree canopy that is dense enough to provide the shade we desire when temperatures rise above 95?

      This is an absurd and extremist’s response.  After the windstorm back in January all you had to do was go look around at Community Park.  There were giant branches and trees that came down.  One smashed into the Rainbow City playground.  Others were near another playground and softball/baseball fields.

      No one is suggesting we take down the tree canopy.

      But can simple measures be taken to mitigate the risk of falling branches?  Obviously the city doesn’t have the resources to send out the arborist (or have more than one) and the tree trimming service to trim and maintain the entire canopy all the time.  But it shouldn’t be that difficult to send the arborist to the highly trafficked areas under the canopy (like playgrounds, picnic areas…etc…) and evaluate the branches overhead.  Send him/her right before a forecasted windstorm or right afterwards.  If its’ determined that an area needs to be fixed and if the tree trimming service can’t get to the effected areas immediately, Parks and Rec can simply close off the area until it’s been taken care of.  I don’t imagine that anything I’ve proposed would be cost prohibitive for the city.  I’m just suggesting taking a more proactive approach to tree branch maintenance. 


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