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PG&E sued for tree killing camp counselor

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POSTED August 8, 2013 9:22 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The parents of a camp counselor crushed to death by a falling tree near Yosemite National Park sued Pacific Gas & Electric Co., contractors hired by the utility and the camp's arborist, saying they were negligent in inspecting the tree.

Mark and Penelope Rittenberg filed the lawsuit Wednesday in San Francisco Superior Court, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Their 21-year-old daughter, Annais, died July 3 when about 40 feet of the large black oak tree snapped off and fell at Camp Tawonga near Groveland.

Four others were injured. The tree took down power lines but damaged no buildings. Children attending the camp were inside a nearby dining hall having breakfast and were not harmed.

The tree was in a "zone of grave danger" that required inspectors to take all reasonable steps to make sure it was safe and warn people of any risks it posed, the lawsuit says. The tree overlooked a gathering area, where staff members were eating breakfast and talking when it came down.

The lawsuit does not say what caused the tree to fall, but alleges it was "structurally weak, unable to stand, and at severe risk of breaking." Inspectors missed those signs because they were careless, according to the lawsuit.

PG&E spokeswoman Nicole Liebelt told the Chronicle the utility had not yet received the suit and had no comment. "We continue to express our deepest sympathies and condolences to the family and friends of those that have been affected by this tragedy," she said.

PG&E officials who looked at the tree's stump after it fell said the tree showed no obvious signs of rotting or disease, Tuolumne County Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. James Oliver has said.

The utility has said it had last inspected the area where the tree fell in December 2012. During such inspections, PG&E looks for tree limbs growing close to power lines and obvious signs of decay or defects in trees around them.

The Chronicle reported the tree-inspection companies were unavailable for comment. A phone listing for the camp's arborist could not be found, and a call to camp offices early Thursday was not immediately returned.

Annais Rittenberg was an art counselor at the camp. She was set to enter her senior year at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

 

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