Toddler crushed by tree in San Jose identified

January 24, 2010 5:24:25 PM PST
A horrifying accident Friday changed one South Bay family forever when their 2-year-old son was killed after a huge tree fell without warning, crushing the family truck.

The little boy was identified Sunday as Mateo Ortiz.

The roots on the tree that fell were completely decayed and specialists say that because of the way the tree was planted, there was no way anyone could have been able to predict the tragedy.

"They said minutes seemed hours and hours seemed like a lifetime," said family member Raul Ortiz recalling the incident.

The Ortiz family had just pulled up to the San Jose home to pick up their oldest son from his grandmother when the 60-foot tall maple tree crashed onto their truck.

"He was helpless you know? And, I guess that's the worst feeling you could actually have when you have children, and you can't do anything to help them," Ortiz said.

Trapped for more than an hour, the family waited to be rescued as firefighters sawed the massive tree into pieces. 2-year-old Mateo was inside the truck with his parents. Rescue workers tried to perform CPR, but it was too late.

"Had they delayed one minute, had they delayed 30 seconds and been someplacethey would have missed it," said Capt. Barry Stallard with the San Jose Fire Department. "But, it just so happens that they were here at that time."

The boy's father Jose Ortiz, and mother Esmerelda Galan, both had broken arms, injuries firefighters believe they probably received while trying to save their son.

In San Jose, trees even on a sidewalk are the property owner's responsibility.

"The sidewalk, the street tree, the curb and gutter, those are all, while they're within the city's right-of-ways and in a public area, they are the responsibility of the property owner to take care of," explained San Jose Director of Transportation Hans Larsen.

Arborist Brian McGovern says it may have been impossible to tell the trees roots were completely rotted. The base was in a brick planter box and covered by plants, a big mistake.

"The biggest sign is your tree looking like a telephone pole," he said. "Trees are not meant to look like telephone poles going going into the ground. They need the attachment to the root system."

It is a tragedy no one can understand.

"They said they were parked there less than two minutes. All he heard was a crack and just, everything happened," Raul said.

It was not storming in San Jose on Friday evening when the tree came crashing down, but arborists believe the wet soil from the week's worth of storm and the decomposed roots made for a very deadly combination.


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