ADVERTISEMENT

Teen injured at Calif. camp heard crack, screaming

  • Article by: SUDHIN THANAWALA
  • Associated Press
  • July 4, 2013 - 7:30 PM

SAN FRANCISCO — One moment 18-year-old Lizzie Moore was eating pancakes and talking to fellow staff at a summer camp near Yosemite National Park. The next she heard a cracking sound and screams and looked up to see the top of a tree coming crashing toward her.

"If I hadn't moved, I don't think I'd be able to speak to you right now'" Moore said on Thursday from her hospital room in Modesto.

Moore was pinned by a branch and suffered five broken ribs and a fractured elbow and vertebrae when about 40 feet of a large, 53-inch diameter black oak tree snapped off on Wednesday morning at Camp Tawonga near Groveland, Calif.

The falling tree top killed 21-year-old camp art counselor Annais Rittenberg and injured Moore and three others.

Two of the injured adults were treated and released. A third, Cara Sheedy, was in good condition at another hospital in Modesto, a nursing supervisor said.

No children were harmed. They were inside a nearby dining hall having breakfast. The tree took down power lines, but did not damage any buildings.

Moore said she had heard shotguns in the distance at the camp before, but nothing like the cracking noise of the tree.

"At first I was really not sure at all what was happening," she said. "I heard some commotion, some screaming and then I ended up seeing the top of the tree moving around a lot, and then I saw it fall."

She was knocked unconscious and said she does not remember much of what happened afterward.

The tree snapped about 32 feet from the ground, according to Tuolumne County Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. James Oliver.

Oliver said sheriff's officials don't plan any further investigation into what caused the tree to fall. Because of the nearby power lines, authorities said Pacific Gas & Electric Co. was responsible for annual inspections of the oak tree.

PG&E officials who looked at the tree's stump on Wednesday said the tree showed no obvious signs of rotting or disease, Oliver said. Weather also did not appear to be a factor.

PG&E last inspected the area where the tree fell in December 2012, spokesman Brian Swanson said. During such inspections, the utility looks for tree limbs growing close to power lines and obvious signs of decay or defects in trees around them.

Swanson said PG&E was still inspecting the tree that fell.

Rittenberg was an environmental studies major at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she was a popular college DJ who served as world music director at the school's radio station, station manager Alec Howard said. The camp's executive director, Ken Kramarz, called Rittenberg a "beloved member of our staff."

"As our own hearts are still hurting, we send our sincerest condolences to her family and loved ones," Kramarz said in an email sent to campers' parents. Moore, who served as a lifeguard at the camp and ran programs at the pool, said she had only just gotten to know Rittenberg days earlier.

Rittenberg's mother, Penny Kreitzer, heard about the tree through the news before she knew her daughter was involved. Kreitzer frantically called hospitals and was briefly hopeful when she couldn't find Rittenberg before learning the truth through a law enforcement official.

"I've lost a beautiful child through that tree," Kreitzer, told the Los Angeles Times. "I wish the tree had fallen on Saturday when no one was there."

There were about 300 campers and 150 staff at Camp Tawonga, which offers sessions for students in second through 12th grades. The camp is located on 160 lush acres on the Tuolumne River, just outside Yosemite National Park. It has been in operation since 1925, according to its website.

Kramarz said the children had been told only that a tree fell and some staff had been injured.

Moore is expected to be discharged on Friday, her father, Robert, said. She will be entering her sophomore year at Syracuse University after her summer break.

But Lizzie Moore said she wants to return to the camp in a week or two to say hello to everyone and let them know she's fine.

© 2014 Star Tribune