Accident Briefs – August 2020

Accidents in the tree care industry that occurred during the month of August 2020. Graphic compiled from reports gathered by, or submitted to, TCIA staff.

All items taken from published reports or reported directly to TCIA staff, as noted.

Operator killed when lift tips over

An aerial-lift operator was killed while tree trimming August 1, 2020, in Stockton, California, when the truck he was working in tipped over.

The 52-year-old man was in the boom’s bucket cutting a tree. As the lift was lowering, the truck tipped over and the operator fell out.

Medics arrived shortly afterward and the man was pronounced dead at the scene, according to a KCRA Channel 3 report.

Man dies after cutting neck with saw

A man was killed August 4, 2020, in Newtown, Connecticut, after he was struck in the neck by a saw while trying to cut a downed tree.

Responding police found Stephen Caciopoli, 33, of Newtown, bleeding heavily from his neck.

“Stephen was helping his friend remove a downed tree when the portable masonry saw he used to cut the tree got wedged,” a police officer said. When Caciopoli tried to break the saw free, it “kicked back” and struck him in the neck.

Police, fire and ambulance personnel tried to save Caciopoli’s life, but due to the severity of the injury, were unsuccessful.

Caciopoli was taken to Danbury Hospital where he was pronounced dead, according to a report in The News-Times.

Worker hurt in struck-by

A tree worker was hospitalized August 4, 2020, in Newark, New Jersey, after he was struck by a falling tree branch.

The worker was in pain but stable after the limb fell on him while working at a residence.

Initial reports said the worker was pinned under the tree. He was taken to University Hospital for treatment, according to a report.

Two killed by lightning while clearing trees

Two men died after being struck by lightning while cutting trees in their yard August 5, 2020, in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Homeowner Ralph Thomas Wallace, 77, and his friend, Moo Saw Kefauver, 42, were pronounced dead at the scene.

A next-door home also was damaged from the strike, causing a small attic fire in which no one was injured, according to a WTVD-TV ABC Channel 11 report.

Man hurt in 30-foot fall from tree

A man was listed in critical condition after he fell at least 30 feet from a tree he was working on August 10, 2020, in New Haven, Connecticut.

Roxas Ivan Stanley, 60, of New Haven, was working on the tree, which had been split by a recent storm. The tree became unstable, and he fell to the ground from a height of about 30 to 40 feet.

Stanley was described as “gravely injured” after emergency personnel responded to the scene. He was taken to Yale New Haven Hospital.

The victim was not a professional contractor, and it was not immediately clear what role he had in the work, according to a New Haven Register report.

Line-clearance worker killed in struck-by

A tree worker for a line-clearance contractor was killed August 13, 2020, in a wooded area of Morris Township, New Jersey, after he was struck on the head by a branch while clearing debris left by Tropical Storm Isaias.

Responding officers and medical personnel performed CPR before Jody Terwilliger, 58, of Shohola, Pennsylvania, was transferred to Morristown Medical Center where he died, according to a Morristown Daily Record report.

Man injured by cut tree

A man was seriously injured when a tree he was cutting down fell on him August 14, 2020, in West Penn Township, Pennsylvania.

The West Penn Township man was treated at the scene by members of the Tamaqua Ambulance and Lehighton paramedics before being flown by Life Flight to a Lehigh Valley-area trauma center, according to a Times-News report.

Climber rescued from 60 feet in tree

A climber was rescued August 18, 2020, in Fairfax County, Virginia, after losing consciousness while tied in 60 feet up in a tree.

The worker reportedly experienced a medical emergency. Rescuers were successfully able to bring the worker down via a technical-rescue team, and the victim was transported to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, according to a WJLA-TV report.

No injuries when crane collapses during tree removal

A crane collapsed after one of its booms buckled during a tree removal August 19, 2020, in Walnut Creek, California. The crane punctured a hole in the roof of the News/Channel 28 office, where the tree was being removed, but no one was injured.

A tree crew was using the crane to remove a 100-foot decaying oak tree outside the office. The tree was considered a danger after a limb snapped off in June.

Everything had gone smoothly during the two-day removal until the crew reached the bottom 30 feet of the trunk. A giant piece of the tree was wrapped in cables attached to the crane, which slowly rotated the piece away from the trunk. But the cut section proved too heavy for the fully extended crane. One of its booms folded, dropping the piece into the courtyard outside the News/Channel 28 office and sending the final portion of the crane onto the building, according to a Rossmoor News report.

Lift operator killed in 40-foot fall

An aerial-lift operator died after falling approximately 40 feet while cutting a tree branch August 24, 2020, in Harrington, Delaware. The 59-year-old man was inside the bucket of the boom lift when it was struck by a snapped branch, knocking him from the bucket.

The man was transported to Bayhealth Hospital, Sussex Campus, where he was pronounced dead, according to a Delaware State News report.

Climber injured when rope fails

A climber suffered serious injuries August 25, 2020, in Gilford, New Hampshire, after the climbing line he was using reportedly failed.

The climber was working for a local tree company when he fell about 45 feet, breaking his back in three places, according to a post at and information provided directly to TCIA staff.

Man electrocuted trimming trees

A homeowner was electrocuted while trimming trees next to his home August 26, 2020, in Atascocita, Texas.

The 62-year-old man was on a 12-foot ladder trying to clear branches near power lines when he nicked the wires with his chain saw and he was killed.

The man’s wife told deputies she was in the house and saw a flash but didn’t think anything of it. Later she became worried that her husband hadn’t returned, so she went outside to check on him. She found his body lying next to the ladder, according to a KHOU 11 News report.

Man survives four days pinned under cut tree

A man survived four days pinned under a tree after it fell on him while he was cutting it August 27, 2020, in Redwood Falls, Minnesota.

Jonathan Ceplecha, 59, started cutting down trees with a chain saw about 11 a.m. on August 27, in a ravine on his Redwood Falls property. He was working along a wooded, steep slope about 150 yards from his home when the oak he was felling bounced in a weird way, dragging him underneath it. His hip was wedged against the tree stump. He could move his arms and twist himself to sit up, but the force of the tree broke his left leg and crushed his right foot.

Ceplecha lives alone and his nearest neighbor is a mile or more away. His shouts for help went unanswered. As time went on, his voice became weaker.

The Army veteran, who spent time in Iraq, ate plants and insects within an arm’s reach and drank sweat and rainwater. At night, he covered his head to keep away swarms of mosquitoes and other insects. The layers of clothing he was wearing kept him from getting too cold.

It wasn’t until the fourth night, after a missed phone call and some unanswered emails, that a daughter from Nevada became worried. When he missed arriving at work Monday, August 31, the sheriff’s office was asked to make a welfare check. Coincidentally, his former wife, who had talked to her concerned daughter, also arrived to check on him and eventually found him, conscious but in pain. After nearly two hours of careful cuts, firefighters rolled the trunk a bit and pulled Ceplecha free.

Two surgeries later, Ceplecha is recovering, as doctors monitor an infection in his foot that could require additional surgery. They were able to save both legs, but he might lose part of his right foot, according to a Star Tribune report.

Lineman injured in struck-by

A utility lineman was injured August 28, 2020, in Beech Grove, Texas, while working to restore power in the wake of Hurricane Laura. 

Justin Smith, of Beech Grove, works with the Jasper-Newton Electric Cooperative and was cutting a large pine tree from a power line when the tree kicked back, hitting him in the area of his lower legs. He suffered a broken foot that required surgery. His other foot also was injured, but not as badly, according to a 12News report.

Man shocked operating lift

A man trimming trees August 29, 2020, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was injured after the lift he was using came in contact with an electrical line.

Responding Cedar Rapids police officers and firefighters found the 22-year-old man on the platform of the portable lift. Though the equipment had come in contact with a live wire, he was conscious when rescuers arrived. The first responders directed him to stay put until Alliant Energy de-energized the line. Firefighters then transferred him off the lift into the bucket atop an aerial ladder from a fire-department truck.

The man was transported to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, according to a report in The Gazette.

Man killed cleaning up storm damage

A 49-year-old man died from blunt-force trauma when a tree he was cutting fell on him August 31, 2020, in Rapides Parish, Louisiana. The tree had been damaged during Hurricane Laura, according to a KARD-TV/KTVE-TV report.

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