City Begins Analysis of Tree that Killed Driver

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Bystanders rushed to try to aid the driver of a car crushed by a falling tree at Irvine Avenue and Westcliff. Photo by McKensie Soylular

A Tustin woman was killed Thursday afternoon when a large eucalyptus tree fell and crushed a car on Irvine Avenue near Westcliff Drive, officials said.

The driver, Haeyoon Miller, 29, was the only person in the vehicle at the time.

The 50-foot, 10-ton tree fell around 2 p.m. landing on a blue Hyundai on Irvine Avenue, said Newport Beach Fire Department spokeswoman Jennifer Schulz. When firefighters arrived the vehicle was in the left turn lane, going from Irvine Avenue onto Westcliff Drive, she said.

Both north and southbound lanes of Irvine Avenue were blocked by the tree.

A helicopter was on scene in case the victim needed to be airlifted to a hospital, but Miller died before it arrived.

The incident was right at the Costa Mesa-Newport Beach border, said Newport Beach Police Department spokeswoman Kathy Lowe. The tree was in the center median, technically on Newport Beach city property, but fell into Costa Mesa city limits, Lowe said, so Costa Mesa police will be handling the investigation.

Newport Beach city spokesperson Tara Finnigan said Friday that Newport Beach city crews maintain the median at that location and contract with a private company for tree maintenance.

Newport city crews removed the tree’s stump, she said, and the city arborist will be inspecting it to try to determine what caused the tree to topple. A third-part independent arborist will also inspect the stump to determine if there was an internal problem.

The arborist’s initial, external observation of the 60-year-old tree did not show any evidence of disease.

The tree maintenance contractor routinely inspects and maintains the 104 trees within the Irvine Avenue median. These trees are inspected every six months and the canopies are pruned once each year. The fallen tree’s canopy was last pruned in April 2011. As part of their investigation, the city will inspect all the other trees planted in the Irvine Avenue median as well as the remaining 328 Blue Gum Eucalyptus trees within the city.

The city’s analysis of both the fallen tree and the remaining median trees should be concluded within the next few days.

Read more about Haeyoon Miller here.


Rescuers work to free the driver, who was pronounced dead at the scene. Photo by Jim Fitzpatrick
After the debris was cleared, two girls place flowers at the scene as a memorial to the driver. Photo by Eric Longabardi
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