By Nina Mandell
MANHATTAN — Days before a branch fell off of a Central Park tree and killed a six-month-old girl, relatives of the last victim to be killed by a falling branch accused the city and the Central Park Conservancy of ignoring warnings about dangerous trees.
The lawsuit claims the Conservancy did not carry out its own staffers' recommendations to remove an American elm tree two months before its branch fell and killed 46-year-old Elmaz Qyra as he walked through the park in February. Qyra, a father of two from Brooklyn, was reportedly a busboy who had just gotten off of work at the nearby New York Athletic Club.
“We think this is beyond negligence,” said Alan Shapey, the lawyer for the Qyra family. “This is an area where I would argue their misconduct was willful by not removing the tree or barricading the area.”
The Conservancy is reponsible for maintaining the trees in Central Park, but did not respond to questions about the lawsuit. The city's Law Department said it could not comment because it had not seen the lawsuit.
In the latest tragic case in Central Park, six-month-old Gianna Riccuitti was in her mother’s arms at the Central Park Zoo on June 26 when a seemingly healthy tree branch fell, killing the infant and injuring the mother.
The city is currently investigating which agency is responsible for the latest tree branch incident, since the Central Park Zoo technically falls into the jurisdiction of the Wildlife Conservation Society. The Conservation Society declined to comment.
A lawsuit is also pending for the family of Google engineer Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, who suffered severe injuries after being hit in the head by a rotten tree branch July 29, 2009 on the west side of the park.
Shapey said he had one message for park workers who suspect some of Central Park's trees could pose danger to innocent bystanders: better safe than sorry.
"If you're not going to remove it," Shapey said, "at least barricade it off."