RICO courthouse tragedy emphasizes role of city arborists

MOLINE, Illinois-- The Rock Island County Sheriff's Department is inspecting the trees around the county courthouse after a branch fell and killed two people last week.

The Moline Park Operations Manager, Greg Johnson, said more people have been calling in to ask about their trees since that incident.

"Trees can be dangerous," he said.

He said that's why it's important to have a city arborist on staff.

"In our newly-hired Terry Bates, we have an excellent arborist, and cares very, very deeply about what happens with our urban forest," Johnson said.

Bates was promoted to city arborist just two weeks ago.

"I love the city. I love the trees here. I'm very passionate about the trees," Bates said. "It's a dream come true."

Bates said he inspects trees from bottom to top, first looking at the roots to see if the soil is cracked or if the tree is leaning. That's a sign that it could be heaving and tipping over.

He then examines the trunk and branches for splits or cracks. Finally, dead or falling leaves during the spring or summer can be a sign of a diseased or dying tree.

"If it seems a little bit more sinister, then we'll look into further detail," Bates said.

Bates said he always tries to trim and retain trees. But sometimes they need to be removed completely.

He said, in general, tree branches don't fall unexpectedly like they did at the Rock Island County Courthouse.

"If anything that worries you too much, then obviously call it in," he said. "But it's not worth worrying too much because it is a very rare occasion when something like this happens."

If you have a tree growing on the boulevard that needs trimming or removal, Rock Island, Moline and Davenport will take care of it for free. Bettendorf only takes care of trees that were planted as part of its Trees City USA program.

Sherrif Gerald Bustos said the incident at the courthouse is still ongoing and they have not determined why the branch fell last week.