Police probe Sha Tin tree death

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 June, 2010, 12:00am

The police have launched an investigation into the death of a cyclist who was hit by a falling branch in Sha Tin, as his family has criticised the government's management of trees.

Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen responded to the death of Choi Kit-keung, 49, who suffered critical head injuries on Monday, by promising action to safeguard trees.

But he offended Choi's relations, one of whom said on a radio programme that Tang had been 'very unsympathetic' and 'disregarded their feelings' when he said in the afternoon that 'people understand that in Hong Kong trees would fall when there was typhoon or rain'.

Later, Tang said through his office that he was talking about tree-management work, not specifically referring to the tree that fell on Choi.

Officers from Sha Tin district crime squad yesterday visited the cycling track in Yuen Chau Kok Park where Choi was hit on Monday. He died in hospital late on Tuesday.

A police spokeswoman said: 'Officers went there to try to learn more about what happened.'

Choi's family said it was not an accident but negligence, and criticised the government for failing to spot the risk of the tree collapsing during a check a month earlier.

Conservationists suspect the 15-metre yellow poinciana, which snapped off four metres above the ground, was suffering from a fungal attack and internal decay.

Tang said the government had contacted the family to offer condolences and see if they needed any assistance. 'We feel very sorry for Mr Choi's family over the unfortunate accident. Regarding the collapse of trees, we think one casualty is already too many,' he said.

A university student was killed by a falling tree in Stanley in 2008.

Tang said the government would upgrade technology used by staff in its tree management office and related offices, and offer more training to improve their assessment ability.

'We would like to achieve the goal of zero casualties from collapsing trees. But everyone should understand that trees will fall down in Hong Kong in strong wind and heavy rain.'

Members of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department's tree team carried out more inspections in the park yesterday.

Firefighters were called to Repulse Bay to remove branches from a 15-metre high tree after a 10-metre branch was found in the road shortly before 3pm. No one was injured.

Choi's family decided to donate his liver, heart, kidneys and corneas for medical purposes. Surgeons used his liver to give a give middle-aged cancer patient a new lease of life.

The patient had been waiting for a transplant for 10 months, said Professor Lo Chung-mau, head of liver transplants at the University of Hong Kong, who led the surgery.

Lo said it was rare to have a liver donated from a dead person, and urged people to sign up for the Centralised Organ Donation Register.

In the first half of the year only 16 patients benefited from such donation, but 25 from living donors.