Survivor recounts moment tree fell on her

The Associated PressJuly 5, 2013 

— 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 crashing toward her.

"If I hadn't moved, I don't think I'd be able to speak to you right now,' " Moore said Thursday from her room at Doctors Medical Center 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 black oak tree snapped off Wednesday morning at Camp Tawonga east of Groveland. The oak's trunk is 53 inches wide.

The falling treetop 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 Memorial Medical Center, 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 from 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 32 feet from the ground, according to Tuolumne County sheriff's spokesman Sgt. James Oliver.

Oliver said sheriff's officials don't plan 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 oak's stump Wednesday said the tree showed no obvious signs of rotting or disease, Oliver said. Weather did not appear to be a factor.

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

Swanson said PG&E was continuing to inspect the oak that fell.

Rittenberg was an environmental studies major at the University of California at Santa Cruz, where she was a popular college disc jockey 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 gotten to know Rittenberg just days earlier.

Rittenberg's mother, Penny Kreitzer, heard about the tree through the news before she knew her daughter was involved. She said she frantically called hospitals and was briefly encouraged when she couldn't find Rittenberg before learning the truth from 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."

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