Falling cottonwood branch kills man in Prince George park
Nearby residents say they've been warning the city about the dangers of falling branches for years
A falling tree branch has killed a Prince George man walking his dog in a city park.
The identity of the man, who was in his early 70s, is not being released to respect his family's privacy, but neighbours say he was a familiar figure and easy to talk to.
"We'd shovel snow together and walk dogs together ... he had family, kids, grandkids. Good fella," said Dave Wyssen, who lives across the street from the victim and his wife.
Linda Stjernegaard was on her front deck Friday evening when she heard a loud crack followed by cries for help.
"A boy ran over and said 'I don't know what to do'... so I ran over and saw him," she said.
Stjernegaard said the man had been sitting on a park bench in Paddlewheel Park under a cottonwood tree when a branch ripped off, taking several others with it. She says it appeared at least one hit the man in the head and he was in serious medical distress.
B.C. Emergency Services say paramedics attended the scene and transported the victim to hospital, where he later died. The coroner service says it is still investigating.
However, people in the neighbourhood say they have been filing complaints about falling tree branches for years and want the city to take responsibility.
Stjernegaard says she's often seen cottonwood branches in her neighbourhood come crashing down without warning. She also says she and her neighbours have lobbied for years to have an arborist hired to assess and maintain the trees for trimming or removal and if that doesn't happen, more deaths could follow.
"It could be your mother, your child. It could be anybody," she said. "They [the trees] don't need to be cut down, but they need to be trimmed."
Wyssen agrees. While he doesn't want to see every cottonwood in city parks removed, he believes more could be done to target those that pose a danger — including the one that killed his friend, which he'd flagged to city workers in the past.
"The last cleanup [of branches from that tree] was probably a week-and-a-half, two weeks earlier ... it took three days," he said. "We need to know the city's behind the people of the neighbourhood to make it reasonably safe."
In a statement, the city offered its condolences to friends and family but said it would provide no further comment until an investigation was complete.
Coun. Brian Skakun said he will be asking city staff to tell him how many complaints about Paddlewheel Park have been filed over the years and what, if anything, had been done to mitigate the risks of falling branches.
"There's a bench there and if there were complaints made, why was the bench still there?" he asked. "And even if there wasn't complaints, why are we putting benches under these trees when they are a hazard... We simply can't say 'just watch it when you go in city parks,' It's a big issue."
LISTEN | Calls for action after Prince George man killed by falling tree branch in city park