Death of cyclist hit by tree ruled accidental

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 July, 2011, 12:00am


The death of a cyclist after an ailing tree fell on him in a public park was an accident, an inquest has found.

But a Coroner's Court jury yesterday urged the government to improve its tree-management system after hearing that the tree's dangerous condition had not been spotted in two checks a month before it toppled and hit Choi Kit-keung.

Choi, 49, died the day after he was hit on the head while cycling in Yuen Chau Kok Park, Sha Tin, on June 14 last year.

Choi's wife, Wong Mei-yuk, rejected the verdict, saying her husband's death was a result of negligence by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.

'My husband would not have died tragically had the officers checked the trees carefully,' she said outside court.

Wong said the department's management of the trees was flawed. She referred to evidence in court of a report showing that an officer checked more than 10,000 trees in two hours, but he in fact only looked at 1,000.

The court also heard evidence from experts saying that there were obvious signs that the tree was sick, including a metre-wide hole and a crack in the trunk, and a noticeable loss of leaves.

'People should not trust the government in claiming that it checks every tree once every year,' Wong said, adding that she would talk to a lawyer before deciding whether to sue the government for negligence.

Finding Choi's death was an accident, the five-member jury made a series of recommendations to the department. It said frontline tree inspectors should receive mandatory training and be required to sit an examination, instead of the present voluntary system. The jury also suggested the department overhaul its tree assessment method and classify trees according to their risk of falling and step up checks on high-risk trees in the rainy season.

The government should also educate the public on risky trees and use of helmets when cycling.

Wong urged the government to adopt all the recommendations quickly, saying that official efforts to green the city meant there were risks everywhere.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department said it deeply regretted the tragic incident and would study the recommendations carefully and thoroughly.

'Public safety is the prime consideration of our tree management work,' a spokesman said, adding that it would implement improvement measures as soon as possible.

The Development Bureau's Tree Management Office said it had, since June last year, performed random checks on tree inspection records compiled by different tree management departments. It had also carried out random onsite checks on the work of the department.

The office appealed for public support to report problem trees on its hotline 1823.