Couple vacationing in San Diego killed when huge tree falls into their rental house

A huge tree fell into a San Diego rental house Monday, killing a North Dakota couple on vacation.
(Kristen Taketa/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

A vacationing North Dakota couple was killed early Monday after a tree with a trunk as wide as a car fell onto the San Diego house they were renting.

A roughly 75-foot-tall pine tree crashed into the house around 6:15 a.m., after strong gusts of morning wind. The ground had also been saturated from recent rains.

However, as of Monday morning authorities didn’t know exactly what caused the tree to fall or what the tree’s condition was before it fell, said San Diego police Lt. Christian Sharp.


Sharp said the tree fall also caused a gas leak in the house and clipped power lines.

A neighbor had used a ladder to climb up to a balcony of the house and told others that there were two people hurt on the upstairs floor, Sharp said.

The couple, Troy and Jessica Nelson, ran a promotional products and custom-decorated apparel company, Trojan Promotions, in Grand Forks, N.D. They had been married for 17 years, said Tammy Reynolds, Troy Nelson’s sister.

The two were staying at a vacation rental house in the Point Loma Heights neighborhood for the weekend after attending an industry expo last week, Reynolds said. They were sleeping upstairs when they were struck by the tree, which had appeared to be rooted in another yard. The Nelsons were scheduled to leave the house that same day, Reynolds said.

Reynolds said the family was overwhelmed by the news of the Nelsons’ deaths. The couple had traveled so often that Reynolds didn’t think much of it when she heard they were going to California for a trip. Reynolds said she never would have imagined they could have died the way they did.

“It’s such a freaky accident,” she said. “I guess we’re all just so numb from it, and for both of them to go.”

A third person, Jessica Nelson’s brother Ryan Langerud, was also in the house at the time the tree fell, Reynolds said. He was on the first floor of the house at the time and survived.

Langerud told Reynolds that it had sounded like an airplane smashed into the side of the house. Langerud told her he found himself in the basement with items on top of him and he was confused at what happened. When he tried calling for his sister and her husband upstairs, he got no answer, Reynolds said.

The house is listed on VRBO as a vacation rental. It has nearly all five-star reviews.

A woman who was inside the house property on Monday afternoon declined to comment. The neighbor next door also declined to comment.

Troy Nelson had started working at his father’s business forms company in 1990, then started his own company that became Trojan Promotions.

Jessica Nelson was the business manager for the company. She was also one of the founding members of the Grand Forks Women’s Fund, which supports programs in the area that are meant to empower girls and women, according to the Grand Forks Herald.

Phoebee Stensland, graphic designer and social media director for Trojan Promotions, said she remembers the Nelsons for the generosity and care they showed their staff.

“They were the kind of bosses that didn’t feel like bosses,” Stensland said. “They took really good care of the employees, all of us.”

Trojan Promotions was closed Monday but will continue the work their bosses left behind, Stensland said.

“As of now, we’re carrying on. We’re still working with our clients and doing what we need to take care of them for the foreseeable future,” Stensland said. “They built a great team and they built a great business and we can continue on.”

The Nelsons leave behind a German shorthaired pointer dog, Stella, whom the couple adored as if she were their own child, Reynolds said.

Reynolds said that the couple liked to do just about everything together, whether it was work or travel.

She and her family say they are consoled by the knowledge that Jessica and Troy didn’t have to live a day without each other.

“It’s good to know that they both left together,” Reynolds said. “It’s sad that we lost them both. But we can’t imagine one losing the other.”