Two killed when tree branch falls to RICo courthouse lawn

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ROCK ISLAND, Illinois — Two people died and five people were hurt after a large tree branch fell on a crowd of spectators watching fireworks. 

Witnesses said that dozens of people were gathered on the Rock Island Courthouse lawn to watch the annual Red, White and Boom fireworks display on Tuesday, July 3, 2018.  Rock Island County Sheriff Gerry Bustos said around 9:40 p.m. a large branch fell 25 feet down, hitting a group of people.

Rock Island County Courthouse lawn is taped off July 4th, 2018 – the day after a large tree branch fell to the ground, killing 2 people. WQAD photo

Sheriff Bustos confirmed that 61-year-old Daniel Mendoza, Sr. from Rock Island was pronounced dead at the scene.  Another man, 72-year-old Lawrence Anderson from Moline was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.  Autopsies were scheduled for both Mendoza and Anderson on Wednesday, July 4.

Five other people were injured, Sheriff Bustos said. A 21-year-old pregnant woman from East Moline was taken to the hospital where she later delivered a baby girl.

“I’m told that mother and child are in good health,” said Sheriff Bustos.

Also struck by the branch were two people from Maysville, Iowa and their two-year-old son, according to Sheriff Bustos.  All three were taken to the hospital.  The man had an injury to his side and the woman had scratches on her face.  The two-year-old was uninjured.

A three-year-old boy from Bettendorf was taken to the hospital for a suspected concussion, said Sheriff Bustos.  The boy was treated and released.

The fifth injured person that Sheriff Bustos mentioned was a Moline woman, taken to the hospital for scratches and a suspected concussion.

“It was a normal evening,” said Sheriff Bustos, “a tragic thing that happened just absolutely out of the blue.”

He described the weather as a typical summer evening, with winds blowing no more than 3 mph, and “not in any condition where you would expect this to happen.”

The oak tree branch that fell had an 8-ft., 2-in. circumference and was about 45-ft. long.  Sheriff Bustos said the tree was about 100 years old, but did not show any signs of bad health.

“Because of this tragic incident, we’re going to be looking at all of the trees there, and make sure we do everything we can do to keep that area safe,” he said.  Sheriff Bustos said that an arborist was going to come look at the tree to help determine the condition of it.

“I personally believe that with the size of the limb that came off, I don’t know if the tree is salvageable,” he said.

Police remained on scene from Tuesday evening, when the incident occurred, until about 3 a.m. Wednesday.  When the branch first fell, Sheriff Bustos said bystanders were doing everything they could to help before first responders arrived.  Witnesses told WQAD News 8 that people nearby were trying to lift the branch to free those who were stuck underneath.

“I’ve been here 34 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Sheriff Bustos said.

As of early Wednesday morning, the front lawn of the courthouse was taped off to prevent people from walking through.

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