It was the last thing Hubert McGee expected. A tree came crashing down on his Ford Explorer Thursday. Now, he wants to know if the city plans to pay for the damage.
The tree is on city property, part of Kountze Park at Pinkney St. and Florence Blvd. The Parks and Recreation Department had flagged it for tear-down three years ago. But they’re faced with a backlog, and this tree was not given high priority since it’s not considered to be in the right-of-way.
Hubert McGee said he was driving his girlfriend’s stepsister, Ruth Ann Bush, and her seven year-old daughter to the store, heading eastbound on Pinkney Street. “I stopped here at the stop sign,” he showed Channel 6 News, “then pulled up to check the traffic. The next thing we know, I heard a little noise… I thought a car was trying to pass me. And after that, a big boom, which was a tree hitting the top of the car.”
He said the SUV was caving in on them. While McGee and the child were okay, Bush was stuck. “And they weren't able to get her out until the fire department came and they had to cut her out of the passenger side.”
He added, “Had we been in a smaller vehicle, I can guarantee the outcome would have been more severe than it was.”
Neighbors like Oscar Watson, Jr. question why the tree was not given right-of-way priority status for removal. “I can't buy that because we have had branches that fell in the middle of Florence Blvd. It should have been cut a long time (ago).”
Watson is president of the neighborhood association. He said the tree started dying when Amber Harris went missing in 2005, coincidentally, from the same intersection. It’s where her bus dropped her off, prior to the girl’s kidnapping and murder by Roy Ellis.
“This is one of the reasons why we want to try and get it cut down so we can put a memorial here for her,” said Watson.
For now, the city says crews have pruned it, so it's no longer a danger. Removing it completely is still on the back-burner, especially with a backlog that’s grown during budget cuts.
“Why do we always have to wait for a tragedy to happen before somebody pays attention to things?” McGee questions.
He worries about how many more trees or branches could be waiting to fall next.
Bush is still in hospitalized, but her husband tells Channel 6 News he expects her to be released soon.
McGee says he still has a lingering headache. His vehicle is totaled. City representatives said they are just beginning to look into liability issues and what, if anything, they'll pay for.