RICHMOND, Va. -- Flowers now memorialize the spot where a Richmond City employee lost his life, as crime scene tape surrounds an area with toppled trees and broken branches.
Officials said a staff member with the Department of Public Works died on Thursday due to a fallen tree as the employee was working storm clean up at Libby Hill Park.
Condolences poured in on Friday including a message from Mayor Levar Stoney who said, "My heart aches hearing the news that we lost a member of our Richmond City family. No words can heal the pain caused by this tragic loss."
As to how the accident happened, much is still unknown.
Public Works Director Bobby Vincent was not available Friday for an interview, and a city spokesperson said there were no further details to share as investigations are underway, including an investigation by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.
Multiple people who live in the area said the tree had already fallen. They said it first toppled last Thursday, Sept. 7, after powerful storms blew through Richmond.
One person snapped a photo last Friday (Sept. 8) showing the tree partially tilted on its side but still elevated off the ground. Another resident took videos Monday (Sept. 11) showing the tree in that same position.
“It’s nuts, because this has been down since over the weekend," said resident Kelly Barnes. "My main thing is that this was a tree that was clearly in distress for years. Every windstorm, it was losing limbs."
Barnes said, for many years, she's had concerns about the tree.
“This tree is wild. You can see through it. So, if you're walking the path coming up, you could see light through it. Then if you kind of duck down, you can actually see the river through the tree," Barnes said.
Certified arborist Joel Koci visited the site Friday and said he immediately spotted some concerns.
“This tree had many defects," Koci said.
For one, he said there was a cavity, or hole, in the trunk.
"This cavity, by casual inspection, looks to be mechanical in nature, not a disease, but a mechanical wounding," Koci said. “The amount of rot going inward from the cavity, the exposed break in the bark, needed to be inspected."
Secondly, he pointed out the hollowness of the trunk.
“If a third of the diameter is not healthy sound wood, then the tree is really suspect for failure," Koci said.
Along with the tree being located in what he considered a wind tunnel, Koci said these conditions should have put the tree on the city's radar for removal prior to it falling, or "failing" as he called it.
“It should’ve been a prime candidate," Koci said.
CBS 6 reached out to the city for a response.
"The City appreciates the opportunity to respond to your questions once the investigation is complete," said city spokesperson Petula Burks. "At this time, the city is grieving the death of a beloved team member and needs the space to do so while also attending to work at hand."
In an initial statement, the city said it would take "all necessary measures to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again."
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