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Newport Beach and Costa Mesa Authorities Investigate Orange County, California Death of Woman Struck in Her Car by Fallen Eucalyptus Tree

December 31, 1969

Police in Costa Mesa and Newport Beach are trying to figure out why a huge tree fell on Thursday afternoon, causing it to fatally crush Haeyoon Miller, a 29-year-old Tustin woman. At the time, Miller was in her car, which was stopped at a red light. The fatal Orange County, California accident took place on Irvine Avenue at the edge of Costa Mesa's city limits.

The tree was 50 to 70 feet tall with a 3-foot truck. Officials say the tree was pruned less than six months ago and did not exhibit any diseases. It also wasn't very windy on the day that it fell.

Following the accident, the woman was conscious for the first few minutes but by the time firefighters arrived she had lost consciousness. Some witnesses say that the firefighters that started lifting the large tree trunk "dropped" it back onto the vehicle, which did further crush damage to the auto. Firefighters, however, dispute this account.

Authorities report that chainsaws were used to separate the rest of the trunk from the portion that was on the car. Airbags were then used to lift the section ,which weight 9,000 pounds, while two braces were placed on the vehicle to prevent the truck from rolling. As the section was being lifted, the tree "resettled," and it dipped some 4-6 inches back onto the car. However, they maintain that Miller did not sustain additional injuries from the rescue efforts. A crane arrived within the hours to help lift the trunk section.

During the rescue attempt, a paramedic hooked her up to an IV. Unfortunately, Miller died at the Orange County, California car accident scene.

Some are speculating whether the 3.5 earthquake that occurred that morning caused the tree to come loose. If, however, negligence on the part of Newport Beach or Costa Mesa caused the tree to become a hazard that it was at risk of falling down, then Miller's family may have reason for filing an Orange County, California wrongful death complaint against one or both cities. A lot would depend on which city was in charge of maintaining the tree and its surroundings and where the tree was located. Some media outlets are saying that the tree was located in Costa Mesa but that Newport Beach was responsible for maintaining the median where it had been planted. Other sources say that the tree was located on the Newport Beach-Costa Mesa border. Another possible defendant in this type of wrongful death case would be any third party hired to maintain, inspect, or treat the tree prior to last week's fall.

According to Newport Beach officials, all 104 trees located in the median where the one that fell had stood are inspected about every six months. West Coast Arborists is the City's tree maintenance contractor. Newport Beach also has an arborist.

City to Inspect CdM Eucalyptus Trees After Fatality, Coronado del Mar Today, September 18, 2011

Driver dies after tree falls on car, Daily Pilot, September 15, 2011

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Our Costa Mesa personal injury lawyers represent clients throughout Orange County, California.