Police identify woman killed by falling tree branch in DC park

Authorities have identified the woman killed after she was struck by a falling tree branch in a Washington, D.C. park.

Police say 35-year-old Sarah Noah of southeast Washington died in the accident that happened in Garfield Park around 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday. Officers who responded were not able to free Noah from underneath the massive limb. She was still pinned underneath the fallen branch when DC Fire and EMS crews arrived on the scene near 3rd Street and S. Carolina Avenue and used chainsaws to clear the branches. 

Noah died at the scene. According to a police report, police say witnesses reported that they "heard multiple loud pops/cracks and then everyone in the park started to run in all directions." Officials believe she was walking her dog when she was killed.

FOX 5’s Stephanie Ramirez says following the incident, Capitol Hill neighbors are calling for a meeting with city officials. In a letter shared with FOX 5 that was apparently sent to D.C. Mayor Bower and several councilmembers Wednesday night, ‘Garfield Park Friends and Neighbors’ say they had reached out to city leaders as recently as April to address pruning issues with the tree that lost its limb on Wednesday.

The letter demands funds to address tree maintenance in Garfield Park and other issues the group deems hazardous to the community, like cracked sidewalks and rodent abatement. The letter also calls for a report to address how drought and heat may have contributed to the falling branch. They also demand a "strategic plan going forward on what will change in order to help keep residents safe as prolonged drought and extreme weather become more common."

"Our community is in shock, and we cannot afford to continue delaying deferred maintenance any longer," the letter continued. "Real action, urgency to fund maintenance, and proper administration must account for the remaining items needed to be addressed at the park."

D.C. Department of Transportation officials spoke at the scene shortly after the accident and said prior to this incident, the tree gave no outward indication, or visible indication, that a failure of this nature was possible – much less likely.

READ MORE: Woman killed by falling tree branch in DC park

Earl Eutsler, associate director for DDOT’s Urban Forestry Division, called the incident "an unforeseeable event." He said the next step after the tree "abruptly, tragically, and suddenly failed" was to remove it from the park. The removal process was completed on Wednesday, leaving behind a stump. Flowers from a makeshift memorial were placed at the scene by Thursday morning.

Sharon Kershbaum, DDOT’s acting director, said the department was "truly heartbroken." Kershbaum says Urban Forestry Division is responsible for the maintenance of all the District’s street trees and park trees. She said the department was incredibly proud of their track record and responsiveness.

Eutsler said the 50-foot diameter swamp white oak tree was about 100 years old. He said the tree was last pruned in July 2022. Its last formal inspection came in May 2022. He said the department aims to inspect trees every five years.

The last inspection came after a request from a resident, Eutsler said. He added all requests are taken seriously.

"I don’t think we’ll be able to say conclusively why the limb fell." Eutsler said. "The tree, by all outward indications, was in good condition and that branch was well attached."

In total, nearly 30 certified arborists work for the department and that all are tree risk assessment qualified.  Eutsler said inspections take place from the ground. Occasionally, tools like sounding mallets are used to assess for decay and defects that are within reach. Nearly 500 trees are removed every year.

Timothy Crowley brings his dog Rosie to the park often. Though he did not know Noah, he said the entire situation hits home.

"It’s crazy. Like, don’t know how you can expect something like that to happen just walking at 7:30. My girlfriend was taking her [Rosie] out for a walk at the same time, not at this park. Right across the street, heard about it. Makes no sense. Just terribly tragic," Crowley said. "She [Noah] probably was getting ready for her day like any other day and then next you know, the tree’s cut down and they’re planning for her funeral. It sucks."

Mayor Muriel Bowser called the incident a ‘heartbreaking tragedy’.

"My heart goes out to the family of our resident and the whole neighborhood that’s pretty in shock. I’ll get a full briefing and we will certainly proceed, but I think this morning we just wake up with a very heavy heart," Mayor Bowser said.