Oroville Mercury-Register


Child taken to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center after rescuers used saws to free the toddler

- By Julia Sulek and John Woolfolk

BOULDER CREEK >> In this tiny mountain enclave in the Santa Cruz Mountains, neighbors hunkered down inside as winds roared, power lines snapped and branches swirled through the air. But they rushed outside with flashlight­s when a deafening crack shook the ground and a mother screamed: “My baby! There’s a tree on my baby!”

Pat McCue had been packing up his car to leave the hillside neighborho­od in the midst of Tuesday evening’s windstorm when he rushed up the hill to help the terrified young woman. He couldn’t quite process what she had said.

“Explain to me what you’re talking about,” he told her.

“My baby is pinned to the floor!” she said.

McCue, a 74-year-old retired Teamster, ran up the stairs of the shingled cabin with the red trim and into the living room. Ceiling tiles had fallen. Branches were strewn everywhere. A playpen was shattered. And there was the child — a 1-year-old boy named Milo — sitting upright on the floor with a 10-inch branch of a Douglas fir buried in his lap. He was crying.

“It almost looked like the tree had punched the baby through the floor,” he said, catching his breath at the haunting memory of it. Sticking out from under the solid timber was the boy’s little foot.

Like the deadly January storms that swept away a 5-year-old child in flood waters near Paso Robles and toppled a giant redwood tree onto a home in Sonoma County killing a 2-year-old boy, Tuesday’s dramatic weather had taken aim at another helpless child.

This week’s windstorm launched gusts as high as 73 mph in San Francisco, 60 mph in Oakland and more than 40 mph in the Santa Cruz Mountains. In Boulder Creek, emergency crews responded to six reports of trees damaging structures. On Wednesday afternoon, a downed tree on Interstate 80 closed two lanes at Treasure Island. About 150,000 Pacific Gas & Electric customers lost power.

But the most harrowing damage happened Tuesday night in Boulder Creek on Bobcat Lane.

The boy remained in stable condition at Valley Medical Center on Wednesday. Officials did not release the family’s name and neighbors who spoke with the Bay Area News Group said they didn’t know it either. They were one of several new families that had moved to the neighborho­od off Highway 236 and Acorn Road over the past couple of years since the CZU fires of 2020 destroyed 911 homes in Santa Cruz County. For a community accustomed to calamities — including power outages and mudslides — the fires drove out several neighbors who had had enough.

The family’s next door neighbor, Yvonne Gruenstein-Harvey, 62, said she was trying to restart her power generator because the electricit­y was out when she “heard the crack, and felt the earth quake.”

The falling tree sheared off limbs from adjacent trees that fell on Gruenstein-Harvey’s roof, causing minor

damage, then came to a rest just above her roof.

“I came out here and saw that and had PTSD,” Gruenstein-Harvey said, referring to the syndrome of stress from prior trauma and explaining her family had evacuated from the CZU fires that also destroyed nearby Big Basin park.

Milo’s extended family of five, including an aunt and another child, had lived on Bobcat Lane about two years, neighbors said, but like many people who seek out the redwoodstu­dded Santa Cruz mountains, they largely kept to themselves.

The child’s uncle stopped by the house Wednesday morning and told neighbors that Milo had gone through surgery overnight and had broken his pelvis and both legs, but his major organs appeared undamaged.

On Tuesday evening, however, in the midst of the chaos and trauma, McCue thought he was witnessing the agonizing death of a toddler.

His instinct was to grab his chainsaw — the same one that he used to cut up a tree that had fallen in the same family’s backyard last year. But another neighbor at his side, paramedic Patrick Kelly, warned him to wait for emergency crews. The thick branch — the kind that locals call “widowmaker­s” — had pierced the roof and fallen straight through. Cutting it to pull the baby out without knowing whether the roof might collapse could be more catastroph­ic.

“We have to stabilize this thing,” Kelly told him, then instructed him to clear a path for rescuers.

After the mother’s screams, neighbors who had lost power earlier in the day raced down the hill to get phone reception and call 911.

The baby’s father arrived first.

He wedged himself behind his immobile son and snuggled his arms around him.

“Keep crying,” the father said. “Don’t go to sleep.”

The whimper fell silent for a moment and McCue joined in.

“Come on. Come on baby, cry,” McCue said. “I thought he was dying.”

McCue knew then that he would not leave the father’s side.

“I just wanted him not to be alone in that moment — if that was the moment,” McCue said.

“No matter what happens, I’ll be here.”

The boy was awake when firefighte­rs arrived about 6:30 p.m. but he was fading in and out of consciousn­ess, said Boulder Creek Fire Department Chief Mark Bingham. Firefighte­rs faced a challenge in trying to lift the trunk and release pressure on the child without causing the roof to collapse. Crews on the roof and inside the house sawed through the large tree to free the child.

“It was a very technical operation,” Bingham said.

Rescuers requested a helicopter, but the aircraft could not fly due to the strong winds, Bingham said. So the boy was driven to Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz, and regained consciousn­ess along the way. He later was transferre­d to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose and was listed in critical condition Tuesday night.

Bingham said he was told by a family member Wednesday that the boy’s condition had stabilized this morning.

McCue was still reeling from the trauma of what he witnessed. He returned to the house Wednesday to cover the hole in the roof with a tarp and peeked inside. There, where the branch pinned the boy, was a dent in the floor.

“I got the visual in my head,” he said. “I don’t want to think about it.”

 ?? PHOTO: KARL MONDON — BAY AREA NEWS GROUP ?? A Boulder Creek resident surveys the damage caused by a fallen Douglas fir tree on Bobcat Lane, Wednesday after it fell in last night’s windstorm injuring a 1-year-old baby.
PHOTO: KARL MONDON — BAY AREA NEWS GROUP A Boulder Creek resident surveys the damage caused by a fallen Douglas fir tree on Bobcat Lane, Wednesday after it fell in last night’s windstorm injuring a 1-year-old baby.

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