‘Freak accident’: Woman dies after being hit by falling tree limb in DC park

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

A woman died after being struck by a large limb that fell from a seemingly healthy tree in a park in D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood on Wednesday morning.

D.C. Fire and EMS said they started receiving reports of a woman trapped under a tree at Garfield Park in Southeast just before 7:30 a.m.

The woman, who has not been publicly identified, was reportedly out walking her dog when she was struck by the large falling limb from a swamp white oak tree, which left her trapped underneath. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

The park is owned by D.C. and trees there are maintained by the D.C. Department of Transportation.

A DDOT official said the 100-year-old tree was last inspected in 2022 and rated “good” 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.”

He said it’s too soon to say what caused the solid limb to fall from a seemingly healthy tree and, in fact, the department may never know, he said.

“We don’t know conclusively. This is a healthy limb … attached to a healthy tree that abruptly, tragically and suddenly failed this morning,” he said.

The limb did not appear to show any obvious signs of decay.

“It’s fully solid. It’s again what makes it so shocking and tragic,” said Eutsler, who added, “I’ve worked for DDOT for nearly 21 years, and have never seen something quite like this with one of the trees under our management.

Arborists were out Wednesday inspecting the tree and then began removing it.

Sharon Kershbaum, the acting DDOT director, said the tree was being removed because the tree was unbalanced after losing the large limb.

“It’s not that there’s any smoking gun with it,” she told reporters. “It’s just that now it poses a hazard because of the big limb missing.”

Neighbors expressed shock.

“Freak accident — it feels like to me,” said Christine Cedar. “I always see the city out here checking trees and marking them and clearing limbs.”

She said she never thought about the risk of falling trees on her walk through the neighborhood before. “I will now,” she said.

Below is a map showing the location of Garfield Park:

WTOP’s Cheyenne Corin contributed to this report. 

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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.

Ivy Lyons

Ivy Lyons is a digital journalist for WTOP.com. Since 2018, they have worked on Capitol Hill, at NBC News in Washington, and with WJLA in Washington.

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