Fallen branch injures three at Menlo College picnic | News | Palo Alto Online |


Fallen branch injures three at Menlo College picnic

Large group was under the branch just before collapse, according to Menlo Park Fire Protection District

A large tree branch collapsed on a group of people during a company picnic at Menlo College on Saturday afternoon, injuring three and sending two to the hospital for treatment, according to the Menlo Park Fire Protection District.

The branch, which belonged to a heritage oak tree and which is about 3 feet in circumference, partially separated from the main trunk at about 2:22 p.m. on Saturday, while hundreds of employees of Riverbed Technologies were attending a company party at the Atherton college campus. The branch landed on a group of about a half-dozen people, hitting one woman on the head and causing abrasions to a 1-year-old child, according to a news release from the fire district. A third person suffered minor injuries but refused care.

The woman was treated by paramedics and both she and the infant were taken by an ambulance to Stanford Hospital.

Moments before the "loud crack," about two dozen adults and children were sitting by the large oak, enjoying its shade. Most had left to engage in an activity just as the branch split off and crashed down on top of those remaining, according to Menlo Fire Capt. Jane Hunt, who responded to the scene about two minutes after the incident was reported.

Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said the fire district plans to follow up with Menlo College next week about their tree-safety inspections.

"I know the Fire crews that responded to this incident were extremely relieved that it wasn't much worse than it could have been, given the size of the group and proximity of the seating area under the tree," Schapelhouman said in a news release. "Other similar events have had far worse outcomes and it's something to think about and have checked if you have large trees, given years of drought followed by a winter with such significant rain fall."

The incident occurred just minutes after the Fire District responded to a collision on Dumbarton Bridge in which a sedan collided into the back of a 1969 Chevrolet convertible that had stalled near the middle of the span, on the eastbound side. Though the sedan caught fire, no one was injured, fire officials said.

The two women who occupied the sedan were both outside the vehicle when Menlo Fire responders arrived, according to the news release. The owner and lone occupant of the convertible said his car experienced mechanical problems and stalled on the bridge. He was reportedly outside the car and waving at other drivers to warn them of the stalled car when a vehicle narrowly missed his car and changed lanes at the last second. The car following that vehicle crashed into the convertible.

According to Menlo Fire, the man helped both women get out of their car before it caught fire. They said he was relieved they were both uninjured but “shaken and unnerved by the experience.” He also said he had bought the car when he was 16 and owned it for more than 40 years with few problems before Saturday, according to the Menlo Fire news release.

Menlo Fire responders blocked eastbound state Highway 84 to deploy their hose lines, while California Highway Patrol troopers blocked off the westbound side so that firefighters could pull the hoses across the lanes and extinguish the fire, according to the news release.


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


3 people like this
Posted by It Can Happen to Anyone
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 6, 2017 at 1:54 pm

Can they sue Menlo College for personal injury, related trauma and time lost from work/school plus unspecified damages?

It would seem to be a case of negligence arising from a lack of maintenance.

1 person likes this
Posted by Tree lover
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 6, 2017 at 4:36 pm

Let's be smart and not hold events under heritage oak trees. Simple.

2 people like this
Posted by get real
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 6, 2017 at 9:38 pm

Exactly. That one experience should negate thousands of years of human experience.

Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 7, 2017 at 9:33 am

Deep pockets.

10 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 7, 2017 at 10:16 am

If this was a company event, any reasonable company (with help from their insurance company) will pay the medical expenses of their employees and invited guests. They can negotiate with the college's insurance company later. Since the company probably paid a huge fee to the college hold the event on the campus, there should be a legal contract that clearly spells out responsibilities.

I just hope that the infant does not suffer permanent injuries.

I cannot believe the comments here that are blaming the victims.

1 person likes this
Posted by Tree lover
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 7, 2017 at 10:51 am

Whether you like it or not, sometimes "victims" do bear some responsibility. For example, an unlocked bike will most likely be stolen. The owner of the stolen bike qualifies as a victim, but still, locking the bike is a better guarantee of keeping the bike. It's better to take precautions and not be a victim.

The falling limb at the event at Menlo College was a disaster waiting to happen. Falling heritage oak trees this past winter and spring, following years of drought and then unusually heavy rain, have been widely reported in the news. I'm a little nervous every time I walk under one of the grand oaks. Given the news coverage of toppling heritage oaks, Menlo College never should have allowed the event to take place under the heritage oak on their campus, and the planner of the event also should have thought it out more carefully.

Years ago I attended an event in Menlo Park's Burgess Park under a beautiful, enormous heritage oak. I was very uneasy at the time, worrying about falling limbs and trees. This past spring that mighty oak split in half after the torrential rain and wind. Hopefully Menlo Park will wise up and no longer hold events under their heritage oaks.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

'Are they ready for fully innovative Indian food?' Ettan arrives in Palo Alto with chaat, caviar and a secret menu
By Elena Kadvany | 0 comments | 3,592 views

Flying: How to lower your impact
By Sherry Listgarten | 11 comments | 2,561 views

Premarital and Couples: Here Be Dragons!
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 2,088 views

Goodbye toy stores
By Cheryl Bac | 12 comments | 1,668 views

Pseudo-Primary for CA Senate District 13: some thoughts
By Douglas Moran | 3 comments | 1,290 views


Short story writers wanted!

The 34th Annual Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest is now accepting entries for Adult, Young Adult and Teen categories. Send us your short story (2,500 words or less) and entry form by March 27, 2020. First, Second and Third Place prizes awarded in each category. Sponsored by Kepler's Books, Linden Tree Books and Bell's Books.

Contest Details