More trees in park where 3-year-old died to be checked

tflach@thestate.comJune 2, 2014 

— The Irmo park where 3-year-old Jacoby Latta was killed by a falling tree limb will remain closed through Wednesday while branches on another dozen trees around a playground there are inspected.

Those checks for undetected rot are a precaution to ensure no other hidden dangers exist, town administrator Bob Brown said Monday.

“There was no way to prevent this,” he said of the limb that fell. “It was a tragic accident that I don’t know how you prevent.”

The limb, which fell from about 40 feet up in an oak tree, was 3 inches thick and 15 feet long, town officials said.

An inspection Monday by a tree service found the oak otherwise healthy, town officials added.

“It’s structurally sound otherwise,” Brown said.

Three-year-old Jacoby, whose family lives in town, died Saturday after being hit while on the park’s playground during a picnic held by the Columbia Church of Christ, officials said.

“It’s one of those things you just question God about,” Mayor Hardy King said. “You can’t understand stuff like that.”

The oak tree inspected Monday is among about 1,000 in the 14-acre Irmo Community Park that opened in November. The popular Irmo Okra Strut, set for September, will be held in the park for the first time this year.

Irmo officials check trees in three town parks weekly as a safeguard.

Ground-level tree inspections provide valuable insight but aren’t foolproof, veteran forester Andy Boone of Chapin said.

The internal decay that weakens limbs often goes unnoticed, Boone said. It can be found if a tree is scaled to check for it, he added, but doing that often is impractical.

State park officials routinely check on tree limbs along trails and public gathering areas.

"But it is an overwhelming, daunting task," said Phil Gaines, director of state parks. "From the ground, oftentimes trees appear to be healthy that may not be."

Park rangers spent extra time looking for limbs hanging after being snapped in winter ice storms. Two sections at Redcliffe Plantation State Historic Site near Aiken are still closed while limbs are being cleared, Gaines said.

Removing trees from parks as a safeguard from such accidents is self-defeating, Boone said.

“If you take every tree out, you make it a pasture without shade,” he said, “and nobody want to be out there.”

Staff writer Joey Holleman contributed to this story.

Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.

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