An arborist said a massive oak that fell and killed a driver in Great Falls Tuesday night was obviously decayed and should have been removed before the accident.
Albert Carl Roeth III, 64, of Great Falls, was driving his 2008 Mercedes CL600 southbound on Georgetown Pike around 6:30 p.m. when the estimated 100-foot, 40-ton tree unexpectedly fell from the right side of the roadway and crushed his car, police said. They are unsure how fast his car was traveling or where he was going.
“It should have been taken down,” said Robert Blakely, an arborist who lives in Great Falls and is familiar with the tree. “It was a tree that presents liability to anyone and everyone underneath it. It’s a high-traffic area. I’m surprised it wasn’t a priority.”
Authorities said that they had not had any complaints filed about the tree, which was over 100 years old and stood near the busy roadway and a strip mall that gets a significant amount of traffic in the 9900 block of Georgetown Pike. Blakely said the tree had obvious signs of decay, even before it came down.
Virginia Department of Transportation officials said the tree was in their right of way, but they had no record of receiving previous complaints about it. Fairfax County officials also said they had no record of receiving complaints about the tree.
“The tree was decayed to the point where it was going to fall,” said VDOT’s Northern Virginia arborist Robert Burris. “It was just random that it came down when it did.”
Burris said the signs of decay were obvious and included canopy die back and rotting at the tree’s base and in its roots. He said its unclear whether the decay was the result of disease, age, or a combination of both. Burris said he did not believe the recent derecho storm weakened the tree.
Joan Morris, a VDOT spokeswoman, said the department does not inspect every tree on its right-of-way because there are simply too many. She said VDOT maintenance crews regulary scan for dead trees as they are making their rounds. The public can also report problem trees using a hotline at 800-FOR-ROAD.
Fairfax County officials said homeowners are responsible for removing problem trees from private property, unless the tree presents a public hazard.
“Homeowners should have a certified arborist look at trees from time to time,” said Brian Worthy, a County spokesman.
This Post has been updated.