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City Knew Bucktown Tree Was Dead 6 Months Before It Fell, Injured Women

By Alisa Hauser | October 18, 2017 2:38pm
 The scene after a tree fell on two women on Oct. 14
The scene after a tree fell on two women on Oct. 14
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BUCKTOWN — After a tree fell on a mother and daughter, giving them concussions, Bucktown residents and 32nd Ward Ald. Scott Waguespack want to know why the city did not remove the partially uprooted tree that had been leaning on a power line for weeks.

"I put in a request via the [311] web app, and we had another request from a constituent to see it removed," Waguespack said Tuesday. "The Bureau of Forestry will need to figure out how to better deal with emergency requests amid the hundreds of other requests."

Waguespack said he does not have a tracking number for when he submitted the request, but thinks he made it in September.

Sara McGann, a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Streets and Sanitation, said on Thursday that the city was first made aware of the tree in April.

McGann said there was a 311 report for a dead tree inspection in April at the Oakley and McClean intersection in the 2300 block of West McLean avenue where the tree was located.

"Following a Department of Streets and Sanitation inspection in May, the tree was deemed dead and placed on the tree-removal list, which is standard protocol for a tree not deemed an emergency or urgent removal," McGann said.

McGann did not immediately have information on how many other dead trees were ahead of this one on the list.

"The Department of Streets and Sanitation works diligently to inspect and remove dead trees as quickly as possible. This tree had been inspected and scheduled for removal and we encourage residents to call 311 to report dead or dying trees," McGann said in a statement.

Clint McIntosh, a Bucktown resident who called 311 about the tree on Sept. 18, said on Tuesday he had spotted a white sign on the tree trunk informing crews not to remove it because it is "evidence."

McIntosh said it was an official city sign with Department of Law printed on it. Mcintosh took photos of the tree being carted away with the sign still on the trunk.

A spokesman for the Department of Law did not respond to a request for comment on why the sign was put on the tree and why the tree was still removed, but McGann said that "the signage on the tree provides that the tree is preserved at a City facility, and is not to indicate that the tree remain on the street indefinitely."

In addition to Waguespack, Mike Strandberg, owner of Gallery Cabaret at 2020 N. Oakley Ave. told DNAinfo he called 311 on Sept. 16.

"I said they need to classify it as urgent. The tree was erect. Then I noticed [when I called in] that it was leaning on the wire. I said, 'This thing is getting ready to come down; we have kids here,' " Strandberg said.

Emily Vyncke was injured by the tree and said she, too, wants to know why the tree was not removed earlier.

"You want your kids to be safe and would think those areas — across from a school,  where morning drop-off and pickup are, would be a higher priority. At any given time, a number of school kids were walking past that tree," Vyncke said.

Vyncke added, "This was not your average tree. It took nothing for the tree to come down. It had been detached from the ground. You can see from photos there are no roots."

Around 6 p.m. Saturday, Vyncke and her mother Claudia Jacobs, who was visiting for the weekend from Boston, were crossing at the northwest corner of Oakley and McLean avenues.

"I remember looking up and thinking, 'Is it coming toward us or getting closer?' I don't remember getting hit. We were not out for too long, but the next thing I remember is my husband holding my head up. The tree came down on my head, and I was bleeding," Vyncke said.

While Vyncke's husband tried to calm their 4-year-old boy, whom she says was "pretty freaked out," Vyncke's mother-in-law, a retired nurse, helped put pressure on the wound to stop the bleeding.

Vyncke and her mom spent Saturday night and most of Sunday at Cook County Stroger Hospital and were released Sunday night.

"Outside of bumps and bruises and soreness and not quite feeing right, we are OK. My mom, being older, is having a harder time [with recovery]. Her leg was hit, and she has trouble walking. We were really lucky. That's certainly what I'm focusing on, even though I don't feel quite right," Vyncke said.

Photos of the tree removed, despite a sign on a trunk, seen at far right, telling workers not to remove it.

Vyncke declined to say whether she and her mother will pursue legal action against the city.

"I do think the city knew about it and should have taken care of it. At the moment we're focused on getting back to normal," she said.

Part of getting back to normal for Vyncke will mean going past the accident site, which is across from Pulaski International School of Chicago, which her son attends.

"We were biking past the accident on our way home Tuesday, and on another corner he suddenly stopped his bike. He said 'Don't go, Mommy' and pointed to a street sign that was wobbling," Vyncke said.

The "no parking" street sign was a bit loose in the ground and the wind caused it to sway.

Vyncke said she reassured her son that the sign is fine and the wind was what was making it rattle.

"'I went over and showed him that the sign was stable. He is developing fear of things around him. He is starting to process and absorb what happened [to me], and he was pretty fearful," Vyncke said.