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Tree crushes driver on Georgetown Pike (VIDEO)

Wednesday - 7/18/2012, 6:03pm  ET

fallentree.jpg
Police respond after a fallen tree on Georgetown Pike killed one person Tuesday evening. (Fairfax County Police)
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GREAT FALLS, Va. - After a man was killed in a tragic tree-falling incident on Tuesday evening, many are wondering why the rotten tree had not been cut down.

Around 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, Albert Carl Roeth III was killed when his 2008 Mercedes was crushed by a 100-foot tall, 40-ton tree that fell as Roeth was driving on Georgetown Pike. The 64-year-old was alone in the car, and police say alcohol and speed did not play a role in the incident.

Robert Burris, an arborist with the Virginia Department of Transportation, spoke with WTOP at the scene of the accident on the 9900 block.

"That is decay, and that's what led to the tree to fail," he says, nodding toward the darkened, rotted-out interior of the tree.

"It's obvious that the root system had decayed. The problem is there is no way to know that. We've got a much better view now that the tree has fallen over than we did when it was upright."

Burris says the tree was on VDOT property, but that the department cannot check every tree near its roadways.

Instead, the department relies on citizens to report trees that appear unstable. At that point, VDOT will send an arborist out to determine the proper course of action.

No complaints had been made regarding the tree that fell on Tuesday.

Jack Goehring, a licensed tree expert, says a piece of equipment does exist that can determine from the outside whether a tree is rotten on the inside. But, he says, it is extremely expensive and most departments don't have one.

What happened on Tuesday, he says, "was a question of simple physics."

"There was no root system. What's there is completely rotten. There was no support for the tree at all, and massive, massive weight up above."

Goehring says he feels the derecho several weeks back is not blame for the incident.

"It didn't happen during the storm because it was lucky. The storm didn't hit here. I think it was just a question of time and weight."

Another tree expert, Vic Price, says the tree had been in serious decline for years.

"That tree has been a problem waiting to happen," Vic Price of Vic's Tree Service of Great Falls tells WTOP.

"It had no leaves. It had no root system to speak of. Gravity was going to take it down. In a busy area like that, I love trees as much as the next person, but sometimes they need to come down," he says.

Goehring speaks with WTOP's Neal Augenstein:

A few yards from the accident scene a second tree, an oak, had to be cut down because a Fairfax County arborist determined it was in danger of toppling.

WTOP's Nathan Hager and Neal Augenstein contributed to this report. Follow Nathan, Neal and WTOP Traffic.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)