Police ID woman killed by falling tree limb in Capitol Hill park; witnesses heard ‘loud pops’ before it came crashing down

Woman dies after being hit by falling tree limb in DC park

Police in D.C. have identified the woman who was killed after being struck by a falling tree limb in a Capitol Hill park on Wednesday.

Sarah Noah, 35, of Southeast D.C. was struck by the limb, which fell from a tree in Garfield Park just before 7:30 a.m., and became pinned underneath it.

Three different witnesses told D.C. police they heard “multiple loud pops/cracks” before the limb fell, sending people in the park running for cover, according to a police report.

Noah was reportedly walking her dog in the park when the limb fell.

Officers who were called to the park tried to move the limb off her, but it was too heavy, according to the account of the incident in the police report. D.C. Fire and EMS had to use chain saws to break apart the limb before it could be removed from on top of her, where she was discovered unconscious and not breathing.

Noah was originally from New Hampshire and had worked in D.C. for Capital One for about six years, most recently as a director in the company’s corporate strategy team, according to a company spokesperson.

“We are heartbroken. Sarah was a treasured colleague and friend to countless associates across Capital One, and we were fortunate for her energy and contributions across so many parts of our company over the last six years,” the spokesperson told WTOP in a statement. “We will miss her creativity, passion, quick wit and unending positivity. The world has lost a talented and caring person full of promise and possibility. We grieve for and with her husband, family and friends.”

Noah was also a Pilates instructor at Reformation Fitness on Capitol Hill, where she taught classes since 2021.

In a post on Instagram, Noah was remembered as one of the studio’s “beloved” team members” with an “unbelievable heart and soul.”

“If you took Sarah’s classes you know she was smart, incredibly creative, and often mistaken for a physical therapist because of her extensive knowledge of anatomy and movement,” the post said. “Sarah was also funny, kind, and brought life and energy to the studio in her weekly teaching spot on Tuesday mornings. This is a devastating loss for everyone who knew her.”

Officials: ‘Shocking and tragic’

On Wednesday, officials with the D.C. Department of Transportation, which maintains the trees in the park, called the incident “shocking and tragic.”

A DDOT official said the 100-year-old tree was recently inspected and rated “good” — essentially second place on a five-point scale from “excellent” to “dead.”

“This is essentially an unforeseeable event,” said Earl Eutsler, associate director for the urban forestry division at DDOT. “The tree has been professionally inspected, proactively maintained, and the tree gave no indication — no outward indication — that this was even a remote possibility.”

Crews later removed most of the tree, saying the fallen limb had left in unbalanced.

What DC can do ‘so that we don’t have incidents like this’ again

Charles Boston is an ISA certified arborist and director of the Community and Urban Forestry Alliance. Boston is not part of the city’s investigation. He visited what’s left of the Garfield Park tree earlier on Thursday.

He said a tree-climbing contest — North American Tree Climbing Championship — was held in Garfield Park in October.

He said before the competition, there was an inspection done on the tree to make sure it was safe for climbing. However, he said this could have been prevented if more frequent maintenance was done on the tree to see how neglected the roots are.

CLICK TO ENLARGE: Rotten tree roots. (Courtesy Charles Boston)

“All trees, to be honest with you, should have a mulch ring around them,” said Boston. “Mulch does two things in particular: one, like on days like now when it’s hot, they provide moisture. So if the tree was watered, let’s say last week, it will still be moist because of that layer of mulch, and it has to be mulched properly.”

Boston said this tree, if maintained properly, could have been alive for another 100 years. He suggested the city do less planting and focus on how to maintain the trees they already have.

“One of the problems is the Urban Forestry administration cannot manage all of the trees in the District of Columbia, it needs to go back to each agency managing their trees; just like DPR has a park ranger, you should have an arborist,” said Boston. “All these programs that DPR has, you should have a junior arborists program. So now you have more eyes and you have more hands in your parks. So that we don’t have incidents like this from happening.”

Boston also shared a letter he sent to D.C. Council member Charles Allen in December warning him that many trees in all of the wards are in bad condition.

“When time permits, I would hope to speak with you or the Committee on Environment about ways to increase tree care, management, and maintenance,” wrote Boston. “In addition, street tree plantings are not being performed properly. As a result, there’s been a large number of premature and preventable tree mortalities over the past decade.”

Following Noah’s death, people who live in Capitol Hill wrote a letter to Mayor Muriel Bowser, Council member Charles Allen and Ward 6 ANC Commissioner Frank Avery. Neighbors said, for years, and even as recent as April, they contacted officials to prune the tree that lost its limb.

“After this morning’s tragic event, concerns raised for several years, including a letter dated April 7th, 2024 from 50 neighbors highlighting the urgent need to fix several maintenance issues, and several 311 requests for tree pruning that received delayed responses, also consisting of a request that urged pruning on the tree that lost a limb today,” the letter wrote.

Neighbors are calling on officials to allocate funds to improve maintenance, meet with the community and conduct a report on how drought conditions and heat could have contributed to the limb loss.

Council member Allen said he met with the community about this issue in the spring and plans to continue to do so.

“Climate change is impacting our community every single day and in ways we both can see and perhaps not see,” said Allen. “I need to let the urban foresters do their job and be able to examine this tree to help really identify what the cause of that fall was. But in terms of people’s concerns around the impacts of climate, increased heat and what that does to our trees and our tree canopy, I think those are very real concerns.” 

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Cheyenne Corin

Cheyenne Corin joined the WTOP News team in February 2023. Prior to this role she was a Montgomery County, Maryland, bureau reporter at WDVM/DC News Now.

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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