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Fire department report sheds more light on Biltmore Estate employee killed by falling tree

By Kimberly King

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    ASHEVILLE, North Carolina (WLOS) — News 13 Investigates has obtained Asheville Fire Department’s eight-page call response report that shows multiple responders went to the Biltmore Estate about 4:12 p.m. Saturday after multiple 911 calls were made that a 65-year-old female Biltmore Estate employee had been crushed by a tree at the estate.

Biltmore Estate spokesperson Lee Ann Donnelly said the tree that fell on the woman during high winds was a native hemlock that was healthy and under regular maintenance.

Asheville was experiencing high winds Saturday afternoon when a tree fell on the woman along a walkway between a parking lot and the main house. The AFD report stated, “E55 (engine 55) was dispatched to a tree that had fallen on a subject at 605 Approach Road,” the estate’s main entrance.

The report states the woman “was not breathing” and the victim was “completely trapped under a large, intact tree that had uprooted and fallen over.” The report stated crews grabbed a chainsaw and “cut the tree on either side of the patient and successfully cleared the tree.”

But, based on the absence of a pulse as well as the position of the patient, it was determined the woman was deceased. The report stated, “the patient was alone and it was unclear from witnesses how long the patient was trapped.”

The AFD report said police working for the Biltmore Estate were first on the scene and were trying to determine the woman’s identity. They did not know how long she had been there. The AFD report stated the patient was wearing a nametag with her first and last name.

Dale Epperson, a tree expert who’s analyzed and cut down thousands of old trees, has no knowledge of specifics in the Biltmore case but is familiar with tragedies involving falling trees.

“My initial thought is I feel for the (victim’s) family, of course, and I feel for the Biltmore Estate for having to deal with all this,” Epperson said. “But then I think about, that’s an old place and there’s a lot of old timber over there, old trees that are aging out.”

Epperson said the trees he often sees dying and falling are white pines and red oaks. In the latest accident on the estate, the victim was killed by a hemlock.

“Sometimes you just never know if the conditions are perfect and the wind blows just right, it can blow down a healthy tree,” Epperson said after learning what kind of tree fell on the woman.

Last June, Casey Skudin, a New York City firefighter, was crushed and killed by a falling tree at the Biltmore Estate.

Skudin’s wife, Angela Skudin, shot cell phone footage of the tree that fell on their car as the family was leaving the estate. She filed a lawsuit against the estate, alleging Biltmore Estate “knowingly and intentionally kept a massive rotted tree on its property next to a main road.”

The following is Biltmore’s full statement:

This loss of a member of our Biltmore team is devastating, and we are sending our heartfelt condolences to the family. The family has asked us not to share details about their loved one, and as a company, we will honor that request. We hope that everyone will respect their wishes. We are providing assistance to the family, and are offering support to our employees who have been impacted by the death of their friend and co-worker. To answer questions regarding where this tragic accident occurred, it happened on a walkway between Biltmore House and a parking lot. The tree was a native hemlock. It was healthy and was under regular maintenance. Regarding questions about the care and maintenance of trees on Biltmore estate, tree risk assessment is a key part of the management of trees on the estate. Our arborist and his crew leader are certified by the International Society of Arboriculture in tree risk assessment. They and their crew follow best management practices to regularly care for trees along roadways, walking paths, and sidewalks. In addition, we regularly engage outside arborist companies to assist in tree inspections, and to expedite other tree work as needed, such as pruning and removals.”

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