Public Safety

Two dead after branch falls from tree during Rock Island fireworks show

Two people  were killed and at least four  others were injured when a large limb of one of the big oak trees in front of the Rock Island County Courthouse snapped and fell on them during the Red, White and Boom! fireworks show Tuesday.  (Thomas Geyer / Quad-City Times)
Two people were killed and at least four others were injured when a large limb of one of the big oak trees in front of the Rock Island County Courthouse snapped and fell on them during the Red, White and Boom! fireworks show Tuesday. (Thomas Geyer / Quad-City Times)

Two men died late Tuesday from injuries suffered when a huge tree branch fell while people watched fireworks outdoors at the Rock Island County Courthouse.

Daniel Ortiz Mendoza, 61, of Rock Island, was pronounced dead at the scene about 10:30 p.m., and Lawrence Anderson, 72, of Moline, was pronounced dead at 11:32 p.m. Tuesday, according to Rock Island County coroner Brian Gustafson.

Both died from “multiple traumatic crushing injuries” after the limb from the huge oak tree at the courthouse fell and struck them, said Gustafson, who performed autopsies on both men this morning in Ogle County in Oregon, Illinois.

Gustafson said his deputy arrived at the scene first, and Gustafson arrived later.

Also injured was a 21-year-old pregnant woman from East Moline, who was reported to be near full term, according to a news release from Rock Island Sheriff’s Office. She was taken to Unity Point where the baby was delivered and the baby and mother are both in good health.

Also at the scene was Dave and VanLandegen, of Rock Island, retired director of court services for Rock Island County. He and his wife, Cindy, always watch the fireworks from that area, he said.

VanLandegen heard “an ungodly sound … a crashing,” he said. “We were about 20 feet away. You could feel the wind when (the limb) came down.”

While his wife called 911, VanLandegen and several other people ran toward the downed limb.

“I saw this guy — the limb’s on him, and it’s too heavy for me,” he said. “A wonderful lady, she came over, too, and a bunch of other men were lifting that limb up.”

“I started wading into that tree,” VanLandegen said. “It was terrible trying to find people. It was dark. And you have all these leaves. I just ran to the tree, pushing limbs aside trying to see feet, or people.”

“It was everything I could do to hold that limb up. It was a monster.”

Then the limb started to split. A woman who said she either worked for or had worked for a tree service yelled to those holding the limb not to lift it any higher because it would split. “You could hear it cracking,” VanLandegen said.

The real hero, VanLandegen said, was a paramedic at the scene who was sitting in front of him.

“He came diving in and said, ‘I’m a paramedic.’ He’s underneath that limb while we were holding it up. That paramedic stayed right there with (one of the men).

The paramedic trusted the other people, including a woman and a teenage boy, to hold up the limb, VanLandegen said. “That man needs a citation or something.”

Rescuers crawled underneath the limb and pulled one man out, VanLandegen said.

Johnnie Woods of Rock Island was at the scene the night of the accident and returned this morning “to pray for the people who got hurt, the victims and the families,” she said.

“The fireworks hadn’t been going too long — beautiful display — and I heard a crackling in back of me and thought it was fireworks. And so I got up and tried to run. I was sitting over on the grass. Somebody knocked me over, I fell over on the sidewalk. Somebody else fell on top of me, I think.

“When I looked back, I saw that someone was under the (limb). I thought it was a tree, because it was so big. A lot of us tried to pull the tree off,” he said. “Of course, we couldn’t.”

On Sunday, loved ones and the curious drove slowly past the scene or left flowers at the site where the limb fell. The area is cordoned off with yellow tape.

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The tree is believed to be about 100 years old, according to the sheriff’s news release. The tree branch circumference measured 8 feet, 2 inches at the base and was about 45 feet long. It fell about 25 feet to the ground.

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