Falling fir tree kills Lents woman

Learn why her husband says they’d been concerned about the neighbor’s tree before it toppled, slicing their house in half …

A block south of Lents Park, this huge Douglas fir tree blew over in the storm, splitting the house next door in two, and killing the woman sleeping in a bedroom.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

The home of Dennis G. Elleson and Roberta M. Elleson was cleaved nearly in half, when a 30-inch diameter Douglas fir tree fell over during the heavy rain and windstorm that swept through the area at about 3:40 a.m. on December 9.

It happened at a ranch-style house on SE Insley Street, a block west of 92nd Avenue, where the family has resided since 1992, according to Multnomah County records.

60-year-old Roberta Elleson was sleeping in a spare bedroom, near the southwest corner of the house, when the tree fell, pinning and killing her where she slept, reporters learned from her husband, who said he was not in the room at the time.

Like a giant falling blade, the tree slices into and through the neighbor’s house.

After hearing the crash that shook the house, try as he might, Dennis Elleson could not clear debris above his wife, or create a space below the bed, to save her life.

Portland Police Bureau East Precinct cordoned off the scene with crime tape as Portland Fire & Rescue firefighters cut away parts of the tree and the structure to gain access to the bedroom.

The front of the house, and the tree trunk that destroyed it, is obscured by limbs reaching through the front yard and almost to the street.

Gathering neighbors were dismayed to see the smashed house, and to learn that Roberta had perished.

“She was the kind of person that, when you went out for a walk, she would say hello to you,” said Chad Christensen, a neighbor who lives nearby. “She would always say hello to the little kids.”

Christensen characterized the Ellesons as “community, church-oriented people”, adding that he’d known them as neighbors since he moved to street about a dozen years ago. “It’s a sad, sad thing to happen,” he told reporters.

Neighbors said that the couple had been concerned about the towering fir tree in the front yard of the house next door, especially after a tree branch fell on and damaged their vehicle. Folks living on the street recall hearing the homeowner express his concern about the tree being “lopsided”, and perhaps endangering his house.

The gash in the roof and side of the house shows the force of falling tree.

Usually, a private arborist is called in to remove fallen trees from structures or property. But, official records show that a Portland Parks Urban Forestry team was called in to cut away parts of the tree to help the Multnomah County Coroner recover the deceased from the premises.

Both Elleson and his wife’s 70-year-old brother were elsewhere in the house, and escaped without injury. Roberta Elleson is survived by them, and also by three children and five grandchildren.

© 2015 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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