Practice Areas

Tree that fell on girl had termite damage

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Derrick Nakasone shored up the Manoa bedroom

DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Derrick Nakasone shored up the Manoa bedroom wall yesterday where a pine tree fell and injured Julia Engle, 12.

The Punahou seventh-grader is in critical condition after surgery

Mayor reviews safety of city trees

By Rosemarie Bernardo

rbernardo@starbulletin.com

The pine tree that sliced through a Manoa home yesterday and struck the head of a sleeping 12-year-old girl had been badly damaged by termites, according to an attorney hired by the injured girl's family.

Julia Engle

Julia Engle, a seventh-grader at Punahou School, remained in critical condition at the Queen's Medical Center yesterday. Engle underwent surgery to relieve swelling in her brain, said her uncle, Mark Pennington. A portion of her skull was removed, he said.

"The fact that she survived is good news. We're holding up hope that everything will be fine," said Pennington, who also lives in Manoa.

A spokeswoman for the family said the girl suffered head and chest trauma. Engle is a cheerleader at Punahou and dances hula.

Attorney Rick Fried said a tree expert told him there were signs of termite damage to the 70- to-75-foot Norfolk Island pine tree, but he declined to give further details.

The tree cut through Engle's bedroom at her family's home at 2347 Beckwith St. at about 5 a.m. The tree also struck power lines, causing a nearby utility pole to fall.

"From all we can tell, even though it was breezy this morning, there were no unusual winds that would have caused a healthy tree to have any particular problems," said Fried.

The pine trees along Beckwith Street are on city property.

"I feel very badly and want to extend my sympathies to the family that was involved in this situation," Mayor Mufi Hannemann said.

Police and workers inspected

DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Police and workers inspected the Manoa site yesterday where this tree fell across Beckwith Street and crashed into a house

The city Parks and Recreation Department had hired contractor Nilasoni Landscape Inc. to maintain the trees on Beckwith Street, but a city official said he did not know how long the company had the contract. Nilasoni Landscape officials could not be reached for comment.

"We do only contract with reputable companies that have an arborist on staff," said Les Chang, acting director of the Parks and Recreation Department.

Chang said workers from Nilasoni Landscape last pruned the trees on Beckwith Street in November. The trees are pruned at least every two years.

"We had no report that this tree had any problems," he said. Records also show that there were no complaints from residents about tree problems recently, Chang said.

City crew members cut the tree into pieces to be studied by experts. The stump was ground down for safety reasons, said Chang.

City arborists checked other pine trees on Beckwith Street yesterday. There were no immediate concerns, but Chang said they will hire a consultant shortly to inspect for potential problems.

Some residents said they fear that more pine trees are in danger of falling. At least two other Norfolk Island pine trees on Beckwith Street fell in the past, according to longtime residents.

Resident Ruth Hirahara, who lives a few homes away from the Engles, said she was awakened by the tree crashing into the house.

"The crash was so loud. I jumped out of my bed," said Hirahara.

Hirahara, who has lived on the street for 15 years, said neighbors have told her that termite damage once felled a pine tree in what is now her front yard.

Jacques Moulin, who lives several homes away from the Engles, said a pine tree damaged by termites fell near his home before he moved in 30 years ago.

Moulin has a pine tree in the corner of his front yard that he had checked for termites a decade ago. "I should check it again," he said.


Mayor examines safety of city trees

By Crystal Kua

ckua@starbulletin.com

Mayor Mufi Hannemann likes trees, but not if they're costly to maintain or may fall on top of people.

"Trees obviously have an aesthetic quality as well as providing some just natural things that we all look for, shade and otherwise, but I really am concerned about the cost, and most importantly, if it gets into a public safety situation," the mayor said yesterday after a falling tree injured a 12-year-old girl.

"I love trees like everyone else, but trees take a lot to maintain," he said.

But talk of removing trees has raised concerns among some people, including the Outdoor Circle, an environmental group known for championing trees on Oahu.

"We are concerned and interested in learning a lot more of the mayor's plan," said Mary Steiner, president of group. "We will be and are in touch with him. Until we actually see the plan, it's hard to comment on the specifics."

Yesterday's accident has hastened an in-depth look at the city's trees.

"Which of them now are sort of in harm's way, the ones that have the most danger of being a public safety risk, and then we've got to take action," the mayor said.

Hannemann is also looking at possibly removing trees that pose maintenance and public safety concerns in three projects championed by former Mayor Jeremy Harris along Kuhio Avenue, Ala Wai Boulevard and Lunalilo Home Road.

Hannemann, police and fire officials and other members of his cabinet inspected the trees and other improvements along Kuhio Avenue and Ala Wai Boulevard yesterday.

"It has to do with the way the trees eventually build out and how it may affect each other -- the ongoing pruning of it. Obviously when the roots go down, it affects the sewer pipes in the area or other undergrounding," Hannemann said.

The mayor has already ordered the removal of newly planted trees that were part of landscaping along a section of Punchbowl Street that was scheduled to be turned from a one-way to two-way street. The mayor killed those plans.

Hannemann is also considering reverting the two-way road to one-way along Punchbowl between King and Beretania streets. But that plan is also drawing complaints.

Council Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz and four other Council members introduced a resolution yesterday urging the administration to maintain a two-way roadway after listening to commuters.

Changing Punchbowl to a one-way street will cause traffic congestion along Beretania and Alapai streets, critics say.

"In its current form, it has provided traffic relief," Dela Cruz said.

Hannemann said that many of the projects under review now were "rushed" by the Harris administration.

"They didn't care enough about what it was going to cost the next mayor and the next council to have to absorb and I don't want to be that kind of mayor," Hannemann said.