PHOTOS: Tree Crushes Elderly Couple's Car

10:29 PM, Sep 14, 2012   |    comments
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (WUSA) -  Last Saturday's fierce storms brought down an enormous tree at 38th and Appleton Streets in Northwest Washington. But there's an interesting twist.

"It was a tremendous crash," said the Gunthers, a couple who thought it was a clap of thunder outside their home.

"I said, gee, what a terrible storm with the thunder so loud. My wife says come down and look out the door," said Paul Gunther.

And what he saw was that the elderly couple's Honda had been decimated by a colossal tree that had toppled from across the street.

The fallen tree smashed a nearby picket fence. Its branches ripped shingles off a roof. But the car took the brunt of its impact.

Paul Gunther said, "I took the optimistic view, well, maybe we can salvage the car. Until we looked at it, and it was completely demolished."

But the Gunthers' story doesn't end there. Neighbors say the residents of the house across from the Gunthers called the D.C. government at least five times to share their concerns about the health of this tree. And five times, they say a city tree inspector came out to look at it and deemed it healthy.

But DC's Department of Transportation, whose Urban Forestry Administration has oversight of the city trees, insists: "A healthy tree is just as likely to topple as an unhealthy one,"  said John Lisle, a DDOT Spokesman)

In fact, Lisle described a "sail effect" in which a tree with a full canopy of leaves can catch a wind gust and fall, while the wind might simply sail through a tree with barren branches.

Sadly, the Gunthers don't have comprehensive car insurance, so they have no idea how they'll get to the grocery store or to doctor's appointments.

"We're quite old and to get around without a car, we'll have to manage somehow," said Paul Gunther, who said he just turned 90.

Their car was 15 years old, but to them, it was indispensable.

Even if D.C.'s risk management department decides to compensate the Gunthers, it would likely be at the blue book value for their old car, which is probably not enough to buy another one.


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