By RACHEL DOVE-BALDWIN
WILLIAMSON - Ester Hunt has lived in her home on Maple Walk for many years. Sitting outside in the swing in her small front yard is something she thoroughly enjoys. However; what occurred Tuesday evening may change her feelings about whether she should continue this favorite pastime.
“My daughter, Drew and I, had spent most of the afternoon and evening sitting outside with my two-year old great-great-granddaughter, Rowan, letting her play in the yard and cool off in her small swimming pool,” said Hunt. “Her mom had come to pick her up and everyone but me had gone inside. I wanted to enjoy the beautiful weather a little longer. That decision could easily have ended in a very bad way.”
While Hunt was sitting in her free-standing swing that thankfully, has a small cover over it, she was suddenly startled by a cracking noise and a loud crash, when a large limb from a tree that hangs over her house and lawn from property on the opposite side of the walkway broke free and fell into her yard, landing approximately one foot from where she sat.
“I jumped a country mile,” said the 90 year-old woman. “It just about scared me to death!
“I yelled for my daughter to come outside,” said Hunt. “The first thing she did was to make sure I was alright, and then the thought hit us both that if little Rowan had still been outside playing, she could have been hurt bad or even worse, if this limb would have struck her.”
“The noise was so loud that the neighbors came running,” remarked Hunt. ‘It sounded like a gunshot.”
Hunt’s daughter told the Daily News that they have requested that the property owner cut the limbs that hang over their house for the past four to five years, and so far, have had no luck getting the job done.
“It’s not been too long ago that another limb came crashing down into our yard and hit so hard that it was sticking straight up out of the ground,” said Drew. “Before that, one fell onto the house to the left of us that is divided into apartments, going all the way through the roof on the upstairs porch to the one below on the first level.
“It’s just a matter of time until someone gets hurt, or worse,” remarked Drew. “Some of the limbs that are hanging across the sidewalk and our yard are good size – they’re definitely large enough to cause some damage.
“If this tree was on our property, we wouldn’t hesitate to try to get it cut down or at least remove the dead limbs or those hanging over the other homes,” stated Drew, “but it isn’t our tree and it’s not located on our land.”
The tree is located in the backyard of a brick apartment building that faces Elm Street. The property is owned by Lonnie Hannah, the current Sheriff of Mingo County. Hannah purchased the apartment building and land a few years ago from former West Virginia Supreme Court Judge, Elliot “Spike” Maynard.
The tree in question is large in stature, and dates back many years. One can stand and look up at the tree and can see where limbs on the side that faces the apartments have been trimmed and removed, but the portion that extends for approximately 50 to 70 feet from the yard and stretches over the public sidewalk and the home owned by the Hunt’s hasn’t been cut back.
“I’ve tried and tried to reach Lonnie to speak with him about the last limb that fell but I haven’t had any success,” said Drew. “I’ve left several messages but he’s never returned my call. I spoke with his wife and she told me they weren’t responsible because they hadn’t planted the tree.”
The Daily News spoke with Sheriff Hannah on Friday via phone and asked if he had spoken with the Hunts regarding the fallen tree limb, and he said he had not. Hannah commented on the fact that there are numerous trees on other people’s land that hang over the Maple Walk and adjacent properties, and further said that he did not plant this tree, that it was there long before he became the owner.
“There’s other trees up there that need trimmed or removed, why single out this one?” asked the sheriff.
When asked if he had any plans to cut the tree or remove the limbs hanging over the residence occupied by the Hunts, Hannah replied that he did not. Information was relayed to the sheriff that the limb that fell almost struck a 90-year-old woman, and he answered by saying that it wasn’t his fault, and said again that he didn’t plant this tree and that there are other trees in this neighborhood that threaten a higher level of danger than this one.
“I don’t see anyone else being singled out,” said Hannah.
The Daily News explained to Hannah that we had been contacted by concerned residents on Maple Walk concerning this particular tree, that no problems with other trees had been identified to us.
According to West Virginia law, as explained to the Daily News by a local attorney who specializes in land disputes, “a property owner assumes responsibility and liability for anything and everything present on a parcel of land upon purchase of said land.”
“I don’t know what we’re going to have to do in order to get these limbs cut down, but I hope and pray that no others fall like these have,” stated Hunt. “This sidewalk is a busy place, there’s adults and kids alike walking and playing up here from daylight until dark and if a limb falls and strikes one of them, there’s no chance at all they will escape injury.
“It’s not a comforting thought to sit out in your yard and feel like you’ve got to constantly keep your eyes on the tree above you for fear that you may get your brains knocked out.”