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Boone County man sues Centralia after tree limb falls on him

A man from Boone County sued the city of Centralia after suffering thousands of dollars in medical costs from an injury suffered at the park.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Boone County, claims the city should have known about the problems involving ash trees at Recreation Park before a limb fell on Garret Bickel in 2013.

According to the lawsuit, Bickel went to the park on Booth Street on June 12, 2013 with his children. He heard a loud noise, the suit said, and looked up to see an ash tree limb fall onto his head. This caused a fractured skull, and ensuing surgery required a metal plate put into his head to fix it. Medical costs to this point have exceeded $40,000, according to the lawsuit.

“The tree was visibly rotting at its base and constituted a dangerous condition on the property of [the city of Centralia],” the lawsuit, sent by Columbia attorney Jonathan McQuilkin, said.

As of Wednesday, the tree, with a large scar running down the tree, ending in a hollow at the ground level, still stood by the playground.

City administrator Matt Harline did not respond to a call from ABC 17 News Wednesday.

McQuilkin declined to comment further on the lawsuit.

The suit alleges city leaders’ knowledge of the emerald ash borer, a beetle known to burrow and destroy ash trees, should have required them to remove ash trees from its property. Part of the ordinance reads, “The City Tree Board, subject to the approval of the Mayor or Board of Aldermen, may remove or cause or order to be removed, any trees, plants, shrubs, bushes, vegetation or any part thereof which are in an unsafe condition or which, by reason of their nature, are injurious to sewers, electric power lines, gas lines, water lines, sidewalks or other public improvements, or which are substantially damaged by any injurious fungus, insect or other pest.”

The Missouri Department of Conservation’s website says the emerald ash borer larvae “feed on and kill ash trees.” First discovered in Missouri in 2008, the beetle was last located in St. Louis earlier this year, according to the Missouri Department of Agriculture. In 2014, officials at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, a national park located near the St. Louis Arch, cut down 800 ash trees in response to the pest.

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