A young woman was killed Thursday afternoon when a 50- to 70-foot eucalyptus tree planted in an Orange County street median fell on her car as she waited at a red light.
Bystanders swarmed the scene after the tree came to rest in the three southbound lanes of Irvine Avenue north of 17th Street in Costa Mesa. Haeyoon Miller, 29, of Tustin was stopped on the roadway when the tree hit her blue 2002 Hyundai Accent GS.
Miller was initially conscious and talking, said witness McKenzie Soylula, 16.
Costa Mesa Fire Capt. Fred Seguin said his unit was there in less than five minutes, and Newport Beach fire personnel were already at the scene, which is on the border of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach. Seguin said the woman was unresponsive when he arrived.
Witnesses reported that as firefighters began to lift the massive tree trunk, which was at least 3 feet wide, the trunk "dropped" back onto the car, crushing it further.
Officials, however, say that account is not accurate.
According to authorities, crews braced the section of the tree that had landed on top of the car and used chain saws to cut the tree trunk apart.
With the braces in place to keep the trunk from rolling, firefighters used air bags to begin lifting the 9,000-pound section, Seguin said. A paramedic was inside the car hooking up an IV to the woman while the tree section was being lifted, he said.
But as the trunk was lifted, the tree "resettled" and dipped about 4 to 6 inches back on the vehicle, Seguin said.
"At no time did that come down on the patient … and do any pressing injuries," he said. "It did not come in contact with the patient." Seguin said the process is a slow one and that it was while firefighters were working to lift the tree that the woman died.
Authorities have not determined why the tree toppled. It was not particularly windy, and Newport Beach city officials said the tree had been pruned in April and was not diseased.
"We don't know why the tree fell," Newport Beach spokeswoman Tara Finnigan said.
Newport Beach took care of the tree, third from the end in a median lined with towering eucalyptuses , even though it is on the edge of Costa Mesa's city limits, she said.
Police officers shooed onlookers away from the median, saying they weren't
sure the other trees were stable.
"It's just so sad to witness something like this," said Soylula, a Newport Harbor High School student. Onlookers who tried to help before firefighters arrived "didn't know what to do. What can you do?"