Fallen branch injures woman in Ashland Creek

A woman wading in Ashland Creek above Lithia Park suffered fractured vertebrae and ribs and a punctured lung after a tree branch fell on her.

Christine Boyd, who lives near Sams Valley, was recently released from the hospital after undergoing surgery to fuse vertebrae following the July 19 accident at Ashland Creek's Fairy Pools. She is beginning to walk again and said she has not suffered paralysis from the incident.

The remote pools are located upstream from Lithia Park and can be accessed by a trail.

Boyd said this week she was with two friends, her husband and their 6-month-old baby girl.

"We had been swimming and hanging out by the creek. We heard a giant crack and looked up and this giant tree branch was coming down," she said.

Boyd said she had to turn around to see the falling branch and didn't have time to get out of the way. Others in her party were able to avoid the tree, except for one person who suffered a scratched shoulder, she said.

"By the time I looked up, it was clear I was going to be hit," Boyd said. After being struck, Boyd said she instantly knew she was seriously injured.

A friend ran down the trail and called paramedics, she said.

Ashland Fire & Rescue responded to the scene, put her on a back board and used rope rescue equipment to pull her up an embankment. She was transported to a hospital, according to the fire department's records.

Boyd said she was taken to Rogue Valley Medical Center.

She said she suffered three fractured vertebrae and three broken ribs. One of her ribs also punctured her lung. She underwent surgery to fuse three vertebrae with pins and screws.

"It was a completely freak, crazy thing you don't think happens to anybody," Boyd said of the accident.

Boyd said she is considering a possible lawsuit.

"I don't like the idea of suing anybody, but there will be a lot of medical expenses associated with this. We're looking into it because of the medical expenses," she said.

Ashland Parks and Recreation Department Director Don Robertson said the Fairy Pools are located outside Lithia Park.

They are outside the parks department's maintenance area.

The pools are near a property boundary between city of Ashland land and U.S. Forest Service land in the Ashland Watershed.

Ashland Parks and Recreation Central Division Manager Jeff McFarland, an expert on trails in the area, said he believes after consulting maps that the Fairy Pools are on Forest Service land.

McFarland said recreational immunity laws usually protect jurisdictions from lawsuits when people are injured on land that is open to the public for recreation.

If the pools are actually on city land, City Attorney Dave Lohman said Boyd would have to prove the city ignored a known hazard.

"Just the fact that a tree branch hit her doesn't mean there is liability. There would have to be evidence the city knew about it and did nothing," Lohman said.

If the city did get sued and lost, it does have insurance coverage, he said.

Inside parks, Robertson said parks personnel and outside arborists conduct regular evaluations of trees and prioritize the ones that need to be taken down or cut back.

Trees are prioritized for treatment if they are near paths, bathrooms, tennis courts or any other amenity that attracts people. Trees in remote locations where few or no people go are a lower priority, Robertson said.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

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