Neighbors describe quick rescue of dog walker under downed oak

Kathy Routliffe
kroutliffe@pioneerlocal.com | @pioneer_kathy
Aug. 12 9:01 a.m.

Diane Wojcik was expecting nothing more exciting than Monday morning headlines when she walked out onto her Greenwood Avenue porch around 8 a.m. Aug. 11, coffee cup in hand, to retrieve the newspaper.

“I’d just put down my coffee to go get the newspaper when I saw this gentleman pull his car over, jump out and start running toward the tree, hardly even stopping to shut his door,” the Wilmette resident aid Monday afternoon.

“The tree” she was talking about was a massive, century-old white oak, its thick trunk a splintered ruin and its leafy top smashed onto the sidewalk and out into the street at the intersection of Greenwood and 5th Street.

Wojcik was in for an even worse surprise.

“I ran behind him and I said, ‘Is there someone under there?’,” she said. “He said, ‘I think so.’ And then I heard her voice and I knew who it was.”

To Wocjik’s horror, the woman trapped under the oak was her friend and neighbor, a 44-year-old woman who had been out for a morning jog with her dog.

Luckily for the woman, a Wilmette police officer and the quick-thinking passer-by were able to crawl through the craze of downed branches and lift the limb that was holding her prisoner.

She escaped with a large lump on her head and a badly scratched back, Wojcik said: “She told me she heard it start to come down and tried to run, but couldn’t get out of the way in time.

“She’s lucky to be alive.”

A little further west on Greenwood, John Steffan’s family was sitting in their breakfast room when they heard what Steffan called “a crack, then a rumble that went on 10 to 15 seconds.”

When he went outside to check on the noise, he discovered the tree had toppled, but he didn’t realize anyone was trapped until a bystander told him.

“The woman wanted the man to get the limb off, and started screaming,” Steffan said. “I think it was more panic than anything else. Once the police were there and the officer and the other man were able to get it off her, they carried her out … and she was coherent, but very shook up.”

Steffan said the oak had a noticeable lean even before it crashed to the street. He said it had rained the night before, “and that may have softened the soil.”

As big as the tree was, the Monday crash caught some area residents by surprise.

Shuping Shen lives on 5th Street, only a few yards from where the tree came down, but said she was out when it collapsed. “I was surprised,” to come home and find the oak’s remains on the ground, she said.

Greenwood Avenue neighbor Tom Wallace was in the shower when he heard what he thought was the sound of a car crash. It wasn’t until later that morning that he looked out and realized the tree’s collapse, and not a fender-bender, was the source of the noise.

Next door, resident Gerry Gesink regretted the loss of the tree, which village officials said appeared to have rotted from the inside, and said “I think there has to be a way to test some of these big old trees to make sure they’re safe and not in danger of falling.”

In an arboreal coincidence, Wojcik said her family lost an oak on their own front yard little more than a year ago. That tree came down after a rain in the spring of 2013.

Tags:

0 Comments

Modal