Woman killed by falling tree branch in DC park

A woman is dead after she was struck by a falling tree branch in a Washington, D.C. park Wednesday morning.

D.C. Fire and EMS said they received multiple calls around 7:25 a.m. for a person trapped under a fallen tree. Crews responded to Garfield Park near 3rd Street and S. Carolina Avenue in southeast Washington where they found the woman pinned underneath a large branch.

Officials believe the massive branch fell on her as she walked her dog. The woman was pronounced dead at the scene. Firefighters say no other injuries were reported.

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.

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. He said the removal process should be completed by Wednesday.

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.

Sharon Kershbaum, DDOT’s acting director, said the department was "truly heartbroken." 

Kershbaum says the 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.

An email sent to D.C. officials the evening before the deadly incident was shared with FOX 5. It was formed by neighbors who have been expressing concerns over tree health and park conditions since May.

The email sent Tuesday evening indicated that the park was "very dry" and had no water access. Neighbors requested help with watering some trees and lawns to prevent fires. An emailed reply indicated there had been several requests over dry parks and trees, and the request would be sent DDOT’s Urban Forestry Division.

Eutsler said Wednesday while he was not aware of the emails, requests are taken seriously. 

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Woman killed by falling tree branch in DC park

Muhammad Sinjar of D.C. said he passes the park often and is concerned, as the tragic incident could have happened to anyone.

"My kids. It would be too late to do anything. Now, I feel like…I don’t know, it’s too late. It’s too late to look at what options we have or take the matter more seriously," Sinjar said. " An innocent life was really wasted here. In the middle of a…something that everybody does. I see people walking their dogs and at other parks, and it should be a safe area."

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 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.