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Capital Tree Officials Examine Cottonwood That Killed Angler

May 7, 2007

Sacramento urban forestry officials said Sunday they are studying the cottonwood tree that dropped a branch and killed a fisherman on a windy afternoon Saturday, hoping to learn more about what led to the incident.

Sacramento Parks and Recreation spokesman Hindolo Brima said arborists were up in a cherry picker scrutinizing the tree late Saturday night, probing for disease or structural instability.

“They want to abate any hazardous situation and just make sure that the tree is in a position where a branch is not going to fall again,” Brima said.

Minutes after 1 p.m. Saturday, a 10-inch-diameter branch fell about 50 feet from the tree in Miller Park, killing Roger Langbehn, 53, officials said.

Langbehn, a roofing contractor from Carmichael, had just finished a fishing derby and sat at a concrete picnic table to dig into a barbecue lunch.

National Weather Service forecasters say a north wind was gusting up to 28 mph Saturday afternoon.

George Connor, an arborist who consults with local property owners, architects and cities, said south winds are typical in Sacramento. The unusual north wind may have put particular stress on the tree, he said.

Cottonwood trees — notorious for shedding big branches, Connor said — line the Sacramento River in the park just south of Broadway.

But other types of trees have dropped branches with consequences as deadly.

A branch fell from an elm tree in June 2001 at Fremont Park in midtown, killing 11-month-old Isaac Gordon Kasower.

Connor said that incident was a case of “sudden limb drop,” which, in addition to high wind, is a leading factor that can render trees hazardous.

During days of searing temperatures, trees suck extra moisture into their branches and leaves, Connor said. The extra weight can cause large horizontal branches to splinter from the trunk.

Another tree tumbled over from its base in the Land Park neighborhood in 2000, striking and paralyzing Martin Anderson, then 66.

Connor said that silver maple had sustained damage that was not apparent to a lay person.

“To everyone’s amazement, it was like an eggshell — with a layer of solid wood outside — and the inside of the tree was hollowed and decayed,” he said.

In another freak accident in 1989, a 50-foot pine tree cracked and fell at the Bing Maloney Golf Course, killing Bridgitti Pannell, 13, daughter of Sam and Bonnie Pannell.

The late Sam Pannell was a member of the Sacramento City Council, and his wife currently holds a seat.

Connor said signs of tree trouble include cracked and sagging limbs.

Brima said city officials encourage residents to call and report trees that appear diseased or at risk of shedding limbs or falling. He said crews work 24 hours and can be summoned by calling the city operator at (916) 264-5011.

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Copyright (c) 2007, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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