Concerns raised over trees falling on motorists

(Photo: Todd Jordan)
HANCOCK COUNTY, Ind. (WTHR) - Dead trees along your daily commute could pose an unexpected danger.

One recently fell on a Hancock County man as he was driving his car.

13 Investigates looks into who's responsible for removing trees near the highway, and who foots the bill if a falling tree hits your car.

Scenic views along a tree-lined highway in Hancock County also hide dangers in plain site. Dead trees that could fall without notice.

Todd Jordan was driving on a sunny July afternoon on West County Road 300 North when a tree fell onto his car. He was going about 55-miles an hour.

"I saw something. I look over, as a tree was falling across my vehicle," he said recounting the first moments of the traumatic ordeal.

"It hit the hood of the car and shattered the windshield and then one of the branches actually went underneath the car," Jordan explained.

Jordan's wife, Erin had been talking with him on the phone when she heard him yell and then their connection ended. She was stunned what she saw when she finally arrived to the scene.

"I saw a tree across the entire road, but it hit right in the windshield right where his face was," she said. "Just how far he skidded. The skid marks were still there," she added.

Jordan was shaken up from the impact, but he's one of the lucky ones.
Falling trees have a deadly history in Central Indiana.

One of the most tragic ones happened just miles from where the tree hit Jordan's car.

A pastor, his wife, and two children died on December 31, 2001 in Hancock County when a 100-year old Oak fell on their car. Stan and Beth Jones 4-year old daughter Emily was the lone survivor.

In Indianapolis in 2006, a man leaving his north westside neighborhood was also struck and killed by a neighbor's falling tree.

The cases raise an important question.

"Who is responsible for that?," asked Todd Jordan.

He's talking about removing dead trees and the damage caused by them when they fall on motorists.

Gary Pool, the County Engineer at the Hancock County Highway Department says trees in the right-of- way are the county's responsibility.

But in Jordan's case, the falling tree was more than 16-feet from the center line of the road meaning it was on private property.

"We are not going to cut down trees on privately owned property with taxpayer dollars. We are not an enforcement agency," Pool told 13 Investigates.

WTHR went to speak with the property owner about his trees. But within minutes of explaining the purpose of the visit, he landowner shut the door.

The Jordans hope other property owners will respond and take action to save both lives and property.

"We're out of a lot of money replacing a vehicle, I mean emotionally it's traumatic," said Erin Jordan. "We just don't want it to happen to anyone else," she said.

The Jordan's car was a total loss. Their damage was covered by their own insurance company.

Drivers can try to prove negligence and take homeowners to court if they want to recoup their losses.

But the Jordans just want property owners to take down trees in question to avoid the problem altogether.

Mike Dale, the Hancock County Planning Director told 13 Investigates his office is in charge of Code Enforcement.

He said residents can report properties of concern to his office and they can see if the problem fits under the county's nuisance statutes.

To Report properties in Hancock County call (317) 477-1134

Filed under: