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Central Park Tree That Fell on Mom and Kids Was 'Decayed,' Officials Say

By  Ben Fractenberg and Jackson Chen | August 16, 2017 6:41pm 

 Workers chainsaw a tree that fell on a mother and her three children in Central Park on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017.
Workers chainsaw a tree that fell on a mother and her three children in Central Park on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

MIDTOWN — The tree that collapsed in Central Park on Tuesday, nearly killing a mother and her three children, was rotted at the roots, according to the private company charged with maintaining the park.

The American elm tree toppled over as a "result of decay in the root system beneath the surrounding pavement," according to the Central Park Conservancy, which is tasked with taking care of the park’s 20,000 trees.

On Tuesday, the tree's upper branches crashed on top of 39-year-old Anne Monoky Goldman while her infant was strapped to her chest and she was pushing her two other young boys in a stroller on West Driver near 59th Street, officials said. 

"The tree had been inspected annually over the last six years, most recently in November 2016, and there were no visible signs of decay or disease," the Conservancy said in a statement Wednesday. 

"The Conservancy employs tree crews seven days a week who regularly inspect and maintain Central Park’s nearly 20,000 trees according to industry standards."

Arborist Carsten Glaeser told DNAinfo New York that the sick tree was precariously situated and more likely to topple over at the busy section of the park, since it was rooted to a narrow patch of ground between a sidewalk and the road. This prevents roots from spreading out far enough to give it proper stability. 

"[The] roots just ripped and tore, which means they failed because there’s not structural support or strength in the wood to keep the tree upright," said Glaeser, who has a PhD and has been a certified arborist for 25 years. "All it takes is a slight breeze [for a decayed tree to fall]." 

Glaeser added that most arborists were trained to use a "resistograph," which measures decay and tree cavities, after Hurricane Sandy, but he was not sure if the Conservancy uses the tool. 

tree stumpThe Central Park Conservancy placed barricades around the stump of a tree that fell onto West Drive and injured a mother and her three young children, Aug. 16, 2017. (DNAinfo/Jackson Chen)

The mother briefly lost consciousness when the tree fell, and she was still listed in stable condition Wednesday, an NYPD spokesman said. 

Relatives told the New York Post that Goldman suffered a fractured neck and that one of her children had a cracked skull. 

The city has shelled out more than $10 million in settlements over the past several years due to similar incidents in Central Park. 

About four years earlier, another woman visiting from Indiana was hospitalized after tree branch snapped near West 86th Street and fell about 25 feet before hitting her in the head. The tourist suffered a broken arm and chipped teeth.

In 2010, 56-year-old Elmaz Qyra was killed after an elm tree fell on him while he was walking on the promenade near East 67th Street during a snowstorm. 

His family later sued the Central Park Conservancy for not removing the tree after saying it was deemed unsafe. The city settled for $3 million in 2013, according to the New York City Law Department. 

On Memorial Day that same year, Roberta Colores-Martinez, 52, was having a picnic with her family near the boathouse when a limb broke loose and struck her and her daughter, Carmen Ariana Cardoso, seriously injuring both women, according to a lawsuit. 

Colores-Martinez later reached a $750,000 settlement with the city, the New York Post reported. 

The following month, a 6-month-old baby was killed and her mother critically injured after a branch fell on them at the Central Park Zoo.

The family filed a $50 million suit against the city and Conservancy, claiming the organization should have known the tree was rotted, according to court papers. The case has still not been settled, the Law Department said. 

In 2009, a 100-pound branch fell on Google engineer Sasha Blair-Goldensohn while he was walking in the park, putting him in a coma and partially severing his spine.

He later sued the city, and received $11.5 million in 2012, according to court papers. 

Parks advocate and watchdog Geoffrey Croft told DNAinfo the Conservancy has GPS units on each tree in the park to help them track their maintenance and inspection history. 

Croft said the Conservancy needs to make sure it uses the technology to keep up on maintenance and inspections. 

“These are living infrastructure,” Croft added. “The public needs to feel safe.”