British Columbia

Falling cottonwood branch kills man in Prince George park

People living near Paddlewheel Park, where the incident occurred, say they've been warning the city about the dangers of falling branches for years.

Nearby residents say they've been warning the city about the dangers of falling branches for years

The victim was in his early 70s. His name is not being released to respect the privacy of his family. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

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.

A park bench where a Prince George man died after being struck by falling tree branches remains covered in debris. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

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.

Dave Wyssen was friends and neighbours with the victim of a falling tree branch in Paddlewheel Park in Prince George, B.C. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

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."

Prince George Coun. Brian Skakun says he wants to know what, if anything, was done to mitigate the risks of falling tree branches. The city says a full investigation is underway. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

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

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in unceded Lheidli T'enneh territory in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca. You can also send encrypted messages using Signal or iMessage to 250.552.2058.

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