Family shattered by falling-tree death, government indifference

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 June, 2010, 12:00am

My brother-in-law, Choi Kit-keung, was struck by a 15-metre tree that fell in Sha Tin, and died after sustaining serious head injuries ('Death adds to concerns about tree precautions', June 16).

To see our relative taken to the mortuary was a heartbreaking experience for his family.

This tragic death has plunged the whole family into an emotional abyss, leaving all of us grief-stricken. The road that lies ahead for the bereaved is full of challenges. We are also very angry and do not accept that what happened was an accident. It was sheer negligence.

Immediately after my brother-in-law was hurt, the government, rather than trying to offer our family comfort or timely assistance, tried to shirk its responsibilities. Officials argued over whether the Leisure and Cultural Services Department or the Highways Department should take the blame [for the tree's collapse]. The tree in question was suffering from serious internal trunk decay that had infected half of it. This meant it could have collapsed at any moment.

Yet when leisure and cultural services staff inspected it on May 16 they claimed there were no problems connected with the tree.

The department says that a visual check is an internationally recognised form of tree inspection. However, I think such a claim misleads the public.

An inspection of any kind has to be effective. How experienced was the member(s) of staff who examined the tree, and what was the duration of the inspection?

I am unimpressed by the general statistics quoted by the department: for example, that about 200 leisure and cultural services officers have inspected 300,000 trees over the past three months. Only eight agencies are responsible for Hong Kong's 11 million trees. The government has paid lip service to the revamp of its tree management regime.

The government has not learned any lessons from the death of a 19-year-old university student when an old tree fell on her in Stanley, in August 2008. The jury at a Coroner's Court inquest said the accident could have been prevented by a more professional inspection system ('Teen's death by falling tree 'preventable'', March 31, 2009).

How many more lives must be sacrificed before effective action is taken?

My 15-year-old nephew and 11-year-old niece are very proud of their late father, who donated his heart, liver, kidneys and corneas, which will help save the lives of other people. They surely understand the true meaning of: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'

We would also like to express our heartfelt gratitude to the doctors and nurses in the intensive care unit of the Prince of Wales Hospital, who helped us get through the toughest 32 hours of our lives.

Tse Pik-yuk, Sha Tin