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Residents say not enough was done to prevent tree from falling, killing 6-year-old

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- When Anthony Hamilton's devastated grandmother spoke to CBS 6 shortly after strong winds caused a vine covered tree to crash into his mobile home killing the young boy, she told us "we left it in God's hands and apparently he takes the good young."

"He wasn't terminally sick. It was just a freak accident in the middle of the night that took the baby from us," Dawn Summerfield, Anthony's grandmother, said.

But while Dawn Summerfield’s words suggest that her six-year-old grandson’s death in early March was an unavoidable act of God, she also alluded to something else that concerned her.

Anthony Hamilton

"The trees behind the trailer park, there's several of them that need to be cut down," Summerfield said.

That mobile home park is Harbour East Village in Chester.

Since Anthony was killed on March 2, CBS 6 has received numerous emails from current and former residents who allege the park's owners didn't do enough to maintain the trees.

"I've had limbs fall off of trees. One of them came straight through my roof," park resident Deana Williams said. "It was a dead limb."

We visited the park ourselves and talked to several neighbors with stories about tree-related damage.

"It was at night, and I come running out like a wild banshee," Williams said.

Many didn't want to speak on camera, but Williams, who others refer to as 'the park mother,' wanted to talk.

"That's the most painful thing in the world to know that a little one died," Williams said.

She says the park should have taken down the tree that fell on Anthony's trailer.

"The way those trees looked, something should have been done about them. They shouldn't have been let go," Williams said.

Deana Williams

 

While exploring her claims, CBS 6 found certified master arborist Joel Koci on the property, checking out that very tree.

"Tragic, extremely tragic," Koci said.

For legal reasons, he said he could not talk about his thoughts on the tree's condition but did tell us he noticed some general problems with many trees in the park.

"The excessive amount of ivy on a lot of the trees, which really doesn't constrict the vascular tissue or the plumbing of the plant if you will, but it does add added weight and torque during a wind. It also adds weight during an ice storm," Koci said.

Koci said he also identified dead wood on some trees, in addition to strain actually caused by the parking areas.

Ivy on trees

"People pressure, lack of root space for some of the roots to expand into, which reduces some of the growth and health of the plant," Koci said.

We asked Anthony's mother for her opinion, but she told us she's hired a lawyer who advised her against speaking to us.

However, she did claim her trailer's previous owners reported the tree that killed her son to the landlord as a problem.

Martin Wegbreit is with the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society of Richmond.

"It's always better if you can prove the landlord had written notice of the unsafe or dangerous condition," Wegbreit said.

Anthony Hamilton

"The mere fact that the tenant believed the tree was dangerous probably wouldn't go far in court. The mere fact that the tree fell wouldn't go far in any court, but the fact that the tree was dangerous and was known to be dangerous and was known by the landlord to be dangerous, those are things that would be essential in a lawsuit against the landlord."

He said the Virginia Manufactured Home Lot Rental Act does not specifically mention trees but said that law requires landlords keep the premises "fit and habitable."

"Would a tree covered in ivy for example or a tree that the roots haven't been able to fully grow as they should because there's a parking lot right there… does that qualify as not keeping safe conditions?" CBS 6 problem solver investigator Melissa Hipolit asked.

"The mere fact of the condition of the tree being covered in ivy or being near a parking lot that would not necessarily be unsafe, but if an arborist in an expert opinion said it was unsafe and in danger of falling and otherwise harming residents, then absolutely," Wegbreit said.

And that's the question that remains to be answered, but in the meantime, Deana Williams said she'll continue to do what she always does during a storm: turn to a higher power.

"I've learned that when the trees start squeaking, you start praying," Williams said. ​

CBS 6 communicated with the mobile home park's lawyer by email.

Jon Nichols told us he won't be offering a comment at this time, but appreciated us reaching out, and would let us know if that changes.

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