Four Injured by Tree Fall, Rotting Roots Likely Cause

A large tree on the northeast side of Frary Dining Hall at Pomona College fell at about 6:20 p.m. on Monday, April 14, landing in the backyard of the Clark I faculty residence and the outdoor dining area and injuring four students who were eating outside. Students, staff members, and resident advisers provided first aid while Campus Safety and an ambulance were called. Campus Safety officers arrived within five minutes of the incident, and an ambulance arrived at the scene shortly thereafter.

Two students were taken to the hospital immediately following the incident. Corinna Svarlien SC '16 was treated for minor injuries, while Maureen Salinas SC '16 suffered a fractured fibula. Both were released from the hospital that night.

The two injured students who were not taken to the hospital suffered minor injuries—scratches and abrasions—and were treated at the scene. The falling tree hit a wall that surrounds the backyard of the faculty residence, which lessened the impact speed.

Salinas said in an email to TSL that no one from Pomona's administration had reached out to her following the accident.

According to Kevin Quanstrom, assistant director of Grounds and Housekeeping at Pomona, the cause of the tree's collapse is believed to be root failure. A crew was called and arrived at 8 a.m. on April 15 to remove the tree, according to an email to TSL from Vice President and Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum. Another tree planted directly next to the fallen one was removed later the same day.

“We're very fortunate it wasn't as bad as it could've been,” Quanstrom said.

In 1998, unexpected root failure claimed the lives of two Pomona sophomores, Brian Cressner and Yuta “Peter” Kurahashi. The students were in a car stopped on Pomona's campus when a eucalyptus tree, its roots weakened from a period of heavy rainfall, fell on the car.

According to Quanstrom, the tree that fell on Monday was a California sycamore, a plant native to Southern California that is not normally prone to root failure. Quanstrom estimated that it was planted on Pomona's campus in the 1930s, around the time of the construction of Frary and Clark I, making the tree at least 80 years old.

The root damage had likely been there for some time, although he said there would have been no way of knowing that the tree was going to fall when it did.

“It's hard to tell because they're underground and the only way to know what's going on is to dig, and when you dig you compromise the roots anyway,” Quanstrom said.

Pomona has hired an arborist to determine if root failure was the cause of the fall. The grounds department also intends to inspect other trees on campus to identify any that may have structural damage.

“We're going to take a look at trees in similar situations where roots may have been compromised, primarily where there's been any recent work or work that may have happened before I came on board,” Quanstrom said. 

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