NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A tourist from Virginia was hit in the head by a falling tree branch in Washington Square Park Monday evening.
Police identified the victim as Penny Chang, 55. She was sitting on one of the benches on the west side of the park at around 7:30 p.m. when the 30-foot branch broke off and slammed into her head. Her 19-year-old son Jacob was sitting with her and wasn’t injured.
Chang was rushed to Bellevue Hospital in critical but stable condition. She has a fractured skull and spine.
Savage says there may have been a few seconds of warning before the 30 foot branch broke off and slammed into Chang’s head.
“I heard a cracking sound and I didn’t know what it was. I looked around scared,” Manhattan resident Betty Savage told CBS2’s Marc Liverman.
When Savage looked around, she saw a woman lying on the pavement right in front of some benches.
“People were running over to her, screaming ‘Get a doctor! Get a doctor!’ She was not moving at all,” Savage said. “I was very shaken up. It was horrible. I was scared to death.”
Another witness told Liverman that warning sound may have been the only reason no one else was hurt.
“People were trying to get away, and she was trying to get away too, but the tree hit her, boom, right on the head and she fell on the floor,” Lower East Side resident Tyrone Taylor said.
“I’m sure that there will be some pressure from the community and also people will be a little more vigilant about it,” said Flatiron District resident Savi Prinstein.
Parks Department personnel were dispatched to the site Tuesday to investigate. They told Liverman the tree showed signs of a fungus which may have caused the limb to fall. According to the Parks Department, it was inspected in July 2017 and November of 2016 and was listed in fair condition.
“I think the city needs to take more responsibility, those things can’t happen. There are a lot of people walking in the area, and it’s also a student-packed area,” said Nikhil Maitra of the East Village.
Others at the park told Liverman that if the city doesn’t do more it could happen again.
“I think they need to take all the dead branches off the trees before they fall on people,” said West Village resident Kevin Dohrenwend.
In 2018, a woman who was struck by a falling tree in Central Park launched a $200 million lawsuit.