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More Tree Troubles for Great Falls?

Tree falls, kills one, residents concerned about others.

Fire and Rescue Personnel examine a car that was crushed by a fallen tree Tuesday, July 17, killing the driver inside, Albert Carl Roeth III.

Fire and Rescue Personnel examine a car that was crushed by a fallen tree Tuesday, July 17, killing the driver inside, Albert Carl Roeth III. Photo by Stephen Rainey

— A tree on Georgetown Pike at Oliver’s Corner in Great Falls fell over Tuesday, July 17, killing Albert Carl Roeth III while he was driving south at around 6:30 p.m.

The tree is one of several heritage trees that were located near the intersection of Georgetown Pike and Walker Road. The tree that fell July 17 was over 100 years old, and according to local arborists, was showing obvious signs of decay.

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A crane removes a fallen tree from the car of Albert Carl Roeth III, who was killed while driving down Georgetown Pike Tuesday, July 17.

The tree measured almost six feet in diameter, and required the use of a crane from Fairfax County Fire and Rescue. The Virginia Department of Transportation also removed a nearby tree that was a similar age and showing similar signs of decay.

"The sound was like something you hear in a disaster movie, not so much a crash, but a crunch," said Doris Koenig of Vienna, who was returning from a visit with a friend when she stopped by the nearby Safeway. "When I first started walking toward the street, I saw the tree blocking the road and was thankful no one had run into it. But as I got closer I could see a car underneath, and that’s when I feared the worst."

The tree’s branches had been trimmed on the side of the Oliver’s Corner building to make way for power lines, placing much of the weight on the Georgetown Pike side, which is how it fell.

Other members of the Great Falls community feel that there are other trees that might pose a similar danger. Dr. Ralph Lazaro, who owns the office building on the northeast corner of the intersection, says there are two trees on his property that could pose a hazard.

"I developed the property in 1977, and at that time, VDOT wanted the two trees next to the intersection taken down," he said. "It would improve sight distances and the corner could be lowered and possibly even a right turn lane added. But it was very much contested."

Lazaro remembers the debate over the tree removals getting so heated, that someone placed a sign on the trees that read "You’re killing me, Ralph."

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Trees on the corner of the intersection of Georgetown Pike and Walker Road. In the aftermath of the tree that fell and killed a driver Tuesday, July 17, community members are concerned about the trees, and future harm they could cause.

"Being a young dentist and a newcomer to this community, I was overwhelmed with the controversy, and eventually the word came from Richmond that the trees were to be left in place," he said. "Over the years, I’ve still kept my concern, the trees have been struck twice by lightning, and the sight isn’t much improved, but the use of the intersection has grown by a lot."

In addition to the sight distances, Lazaro says the trees’ proximity could make it easy for falling branches to fall onto cars driving along Georgetown Pike. A county arborist recently examined the trees and said it wasn’t in a condition as bad as the one that fell July 17, but a future analysis is planned.

"I love trees, and I know how important they are to this community, but I’m hoping this bad decision that was made 35 years ago will be corrected, hopefully before there’s another tragedy," Lazaro said. "It took a fatal accident to get a light at the Utterback Store Road intersection, and a major accident to get one at Riverbend Road, I’m hoping we can be a little more proactive about this situation."