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Eyewitnesses, expert ask if Trinity Bellwoods Park's deadly branch could have been prevented

Questions are being raised about whether the unstable branches of an aging species of tree in Trinity Bellwoods Park could have been spotted and dealt with earlier, before one of them fell and killed an owner of a local art gallery last week.

Eyewitnesses say the branch that killed 71-year-old Pari Nadimi wasn’t the only bough of Siberian Elms that fell in the park after a storm lashed the city.

Nor was it the first time someone has died from falling branches from that type of tree in the park in the past seven years, as one licensed arborist told CTV News many of these trees could be past their prime.

“This shouldn’t have happened,” said Mohamed Al-Rahawi, who was in the park that day, heard the crack of the splitting wood, and yelled out a warning that came too late.

“I almost had a heart attack. It was one of the worst things I’ve seen in my life. I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

A video of the aftermath shows Torontonians rushing to help Nadimi, and talking to a 9-1-1 dispatcher about her condition.

“Squeeze my hand,” one person says, trying to comfort her until emergency crews could arrive.

Nadimi was taken to St. Michael’s Hospital, but doctors said she had a massive brain injury with no hope of recovery. She died days later.

“Everybody was completely devastated,” said her friend Madeleine Donahue in an interview. She said Nadimi loved running and walking and was likely enjoying the park when the branch fell.

“She was an extraordinary sister to her siblings and her nephew, and a leader in contemporary art. She will be completely missed by the art community, by her friends. We have lost an incredible person who was a warm, compassionate person and it’s a total tragedy,” Donahue said in an interview with CTV News Toronto.

City workers have cut that Siberian Elm down, and now flowers mark a small memorial on the stump.

Flowers mark a small memorial on the stump of a tree in Trinity Bellwoods Park after a branch fell and killed an owner of a local art gallery.But it wasn’t the only branch to fall from that type of tree after a storm the day before. People in the park pointed to a second tree next to the first along a walkway in the park that had lost a branch as well, but it didn’t hit anyone.

In 2016, a French man shielded his wife when the bough of a Siberian Elm suddenly fell. He died and she survived. At the time, police said it was a freak accident.

Licensed arborist Erik Anderssen of Viking Tree Services took a look at the stump, and said its ring patterns illustrate a tree that may have been past its life span.

“A fast-growing tree, when it gets mature, it becomes drier and more brittle, and is prone to what we characterize as shedding live wood,” he said.

Anderssen said he didn’t wish to tell the city what to do on their property, and said that even healthy trees can shed wood unpredictably.

But looking around the park he pointed to several trees of that species that were older and that he believed could pose a risk in certain conditions.

“If it was on my property audit was a trafficked area beside the sidewalk, I would take it down,” he said.

The City of Toronto said in a statement it sends its deepest sympathies to the woman’s family and friends.

“City staff continue to perform a visual assessment of trees located in high-use areas in Trinity Bellwoods Park. Staff actively perform visual inspections and maintenance of the more than five million trees growing along City streets and within the City’s parks, ravines and natural areas throughout the year,” the statement said.

“Despite efforts like these, incidents like this can unfortunately happen – even with healthy trees. The City remains committed to performing maintenance activities throughout the year which includes pruning branches within the tree's crown and, when necessary, tree removal,” the statement said.

The city statement doesn’t sit well with Al-Rahawi.

“It’s the city’s responsibility to make sure that these trees are safe so it doesn’t happen again. We’re talking about human life,” he said. Top Stories

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