Originally created 01/18/06

Fierce wind topples oak, killing 2 in car

A man and woman are dead after a century-old oak was uprooted by high winds and fell on top of their small SUV, crushing the vehicle and the occupants Tuesday.

"I heard what sounded like a train wreck. I looked up and saw the tree falling on top of the car," said Billy Jackson, who lives near the 200 block of Telfair Street, where the accident happened.

"I thought she saw it and had stopped, but she kept driving."

The driver was Rhonda West, 39, of Trunnion Road.

Her passenger was her ex-husband, Kenneth West, 40, of Fenwick Street, said Richmond County Chief Deputy Coroner Mark Bowen.

Mr. Jackson called 911 after the crash and "me and another guy tried to pull the limbs back, but it was scary."

The bulk of the tree landed on the roof of the car, collapsing the middle of the Suzuki.

The Wests died from trauma and asphyxia, Mr. Bowen said.

The accident happened at about 4:35 p.m. and they were pronounced dead at about 5:15 p.m., he said.

Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength was at the scene briefly and said it appeared the tree was uprooted by the strong wind that blew through the area all day Tuesday.

Crews from the Augusta-Richmond County Road Department used power saws to cut away huge chunks of bark to clear a path for emergency workers to get to the couple.

Subcontracted workers were also used to help remove limbs, said Jack Key, an operations manager for the department.

Augusta-Richmond County Fire Chief Howard Willis said it appeared the tree was originally on private property, as he pointed to a city-owned sidewalk that fronted the tree's location before the fall.

The tree also damaged a carport next to a two-story house.

As of Tuesday night, a significant number of Olde Town residents on Broad, Forsythe and Second streets remained without electrical, cable or telephone services.

DeWayne Freeman, a resident of Walker Street, said he fears this could happen again.

"I grew up around here and these old trees need to be cut down," he said. "These streets are used a lot."

Reach Timothy Cox at (706) 823-3217 or tim.cox@augustachronicle.com.

Weather Forecast

Today: Partly cloudy, with a high near 53. Breezy, with a west wind between 16 and 24 mph.

Tonight: Clear, with a low around 30. West wind around 5 mph, becoming calm.

Thursday: Sunny, with a high near 61. South wind between 5 and 8 mph.

Source: National Weather Service


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