Wednesday, June 4 was just another day for Lake Arrowhead homeowner Doug Meissner as he worked on his computer at his home in the 100 block of B Lane. Then, at 4:04 p.m. it happened — a 35-ton crane engaged in neighborhood tree removal operations overturned and toppled onto his house, rendering it a total loss.
“I know it happened at 4:04 because it stopped my clock,” he said during an interview with The Mountain News at a neighbor’s home shortly after the accident. “I’m just happy to be alive right now,” he said, as his wife, Sharon — who was not in the house at the time of the accident — looked on. “You got that right,” said friend and neighbor Tony Geary as he cooked a pizza and poured beverages for his shaken friends. “You’re one lucky man, to be sure.”
The crane was rented by Great Scott Tree Service, a company hired by Meissner’s neighbors, Barbara and Dan Martinez to perform the tree removal work. The final tree of the job was being removed when a gust of wind caught the 30 foot top-section of a pine tree in the process of being lowered to the ground. At the moment the gust occurred, the soft unpaved ground under the massive crane gave way, and it began the fall onto the Meissner home.
“I just watched the whole thing in slow motion,” Meissner recalled. “I saw the face of the crane operator — he just looked helpless, and all he could do was ride it out.” Crane operator Andreas Delgado, a 15-year veteran employee of Great Scott, climbed out of the inverted control cab walking away from the accident physically unscathed.
“He’s one of the best employees I’ve ever worked with,” said John Hernandez, vice president of sales for the company. “We’re just so thankful nobody was hurt, either in the house or in the crane,” he said as he surveyed the damage the morning after the accident.
“So far Great Scott has been wonderful,” Sharon Meissner said as employees of the Stanton, California based tree service helped load items and belongings from the damaged home into a truck. “They’ve been very helpful and concerned.”
THE MOMENT DESCRIBED
“Something didn’t sound right,” Meissner recalled of the moment he first realized something was amiss. “There was creaking and groaning, and the pine needles were falling and there were odd sounds, then I looked out the window and I knew it was over. That crane was starting to turn over,” he said.
According to Meissner, he stood up and headed for a doorway. “It happened so fast, I really didn’t know what to do. I stood in a doorway and just waited for whatever would happen to happen.” Meissner believes he would not have survived had he been in the kitchen or the bathroom at the time. Both of those areas of the home sustained the heaviest damage. Daylight revealed the roof and supporting beams had been sliced completely through by the crane’s heavy boom, and the body of the crane caused some damage to a house next door.
Neighbors expressed shock and sympathy for the Meissners, and stared in disbelief as the crane toppled onto the home. “It sounded like a bomb,” said one neighbor — who wished to remain unnamed — as she watched the crane and its 150 foot boom fall upon and crush her friend’s home. “It was like nothing I’d ever seen before,” she said. “I’ll never forget that sound.”
Within moments emergency calls flooded into the 911 system and fire and rescue crews were dispatched from Station 91 in Lake Arrowhead. Two rescue personnel expressed relief that no one was seriously hurt in the accident, and that a fire was not triggered when the crane’s gigantic boom knocked down area powerlines. As a result of the downed lines, more than 2,000 homes were without power for approximately four hours.
Meissner said he felt uncomfortable about the work being performed so close to his house. “I don’t know, something just told me to grab my digital camera and take pictures of everything inside the house and download them onto my computer.” On Tuesday Meissner took the photos; by Wednesday he was glad he did. “This kind of work is always dangerous, but it was happening so close I just felt kind of uneasy about it.”
While the magnitude of the event had not yet fully set in, Meissner said he knows he will be dealing with the insurance companies involved for many months to come. “I’m really dreading that part of it,” Meissner said. “Of course, right now I’m just happy to be here, and I’m so thankful for that, but oh how I’m dreading fighting with insurance companies.”
Meissner said he and wife Sharon had just completed the many renovation and redecorating projects started on the home, and were happy with the outcome. “Now, it’ll never be the same,” he said. “I know that they won’t rebuild like the house like it was. They just don’t build like that any more, and I have my doubts when it comes to how the insurance companies will handle this.”
Sharon Meissner is just glad her husband is alive and unhurt. “This could have easily gone another way,” she said, with a sigh of relief in her voice.
Category: Accident Report