Rose Garden Resident
Fallen tree displaces San Jose residents
Couple escape after huge branches crash onto bed inside their condo
In the early hours on a recent gloomy day, 29-yearold Lauren Kirchick was awakened by crazy “hurricane wind” pounding on her bedroom window.
She felt the urge to check on the two large eucalyptus trees across from her home of six years — living in the Bay Area, she didn't usually worry too much about the weather, but that night's storm seemed different. While she peered through the blinds at her San Jose condo, her husband, Eric, 30, got up to use the bathroom across the hall.
“I'm watching, and these two trees are just swaying, swaying, swaying,” Lauren said. “All of a sudden, I hear this huge crack.”
During the moments the couple were out of bed, one of the eucalyptus trees — which had loomed large over the condo for years — came crashing down, directly toward the bed where they were sleeping just minutes before.
It's hard for Lauren to remember exactly what happened next that Tuesday morning — if she ran, or if she jumped out of the way. But all of a sudden, she found herself on her bedroom floor.
“The whole ceiling was on top of me,” Lauren said through tears. “I was like, `well, this is it.'”
But Eric managed to pull Lauren out from where she fell, next to their dresser and among a mess of branches.
“I don't know if I was stuck, I had so much adrenaline,” she said. “All I know is, he helped pull me out — I don't know if I could've gotten out on my own. And then we ran out of here.”
She and Eric escaped into their living room, which was now littered with debris from their roof and ceiling. After finding a flameless candle in their condo to help light the way, they headed downstairs to their neighbor's condo for help.
That neighbor, Linda Simi-ormonde, said she found the young couple at her doorstep at 2:25 a.m., looking absolutely terrified.
Lauren “was hit on top of the head,” Simi-ormonde, 74, said. “She had blood, she had this huge knot on her head. And she was in a daze, and that needed to be taken care of.”
Simi-ormonde began pulling “wood, ceiling, sawdust, all the debris, leaves, branches — big, huge branches” from Lauren's hair, helped them call 911, and offered the couple her guest bedroom for the night.
The next day, Simi-ormonde discovered that her own condo also had been damaged — the walls of her guest bedroom and the mattress in it had water damage, and the ceiling began to leak. She and her husband are planning to move out by the end of the week at the advice of her insurance agency, who said that it's too dangerous for them to stay put.
But property damage is the least of Simi-ormonde's worries. What she's most upset about is Lauren and Eric's brush with death.
“These two beautiful people could have been killed if they would have stayed in bed,” Simi-ormonde said, getting choked up as she spoke. “It's more than the loss of things. Things can be replaced — people cannot be replaced, and I thank God with my heart and soul that no one died.”
The Kirchicks and Simiormonde said the two eucalyptus trees have been a point of contention in the past, though when the Kirchicks bought their condo and moved in six years ago, they weren't too concerned about them.
“At first glance, it's not something you really think about — they're 40 yards, 50 yards away,” Eric said. “You just wouldn't think anything like that would happen, especially this far away.”
But things changed several years ago, after another tree fell near the Kirchicks' condo on a spa — “a little outhouse-type thing with a Jacuzzi in it,” Lauren said.
“Ever since, people have been petitioning to get rid of the other two eucalyptus trees,” Eric said. “It's been denied, and then this happened.”
Simi-ormonde, a renter who's lived in the complex for 15 years, agreed.
“They have talked about getting rid of these trees,” she said. “And they need to know these people are in danger — we are all in danger.”
The homeowners' association did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The Kirchicks and Simiormonde said they've had no luck getting the HOA to take their pleas for help seriously. For instance, the Kirchicks have asked the HOA to place a tarp in their home to prevent further damage to the condo, or to make arrangements to have the tree removed with a crane.
“It's been frustrating,” Eric said. “We've filed a claim with our insurance, and they contacted and told them we've got to get a debris removal service out, got to tarp the roof to prevent further damage. All they did was send a mass email to everyone saying they were scheduling people to do that.”
He added: “I've been following up each day, and they just said it's going to take days. Nothing's been done to get the tree removed… it's raining every single day and it's causing more damage, and I haven't gotten a response.”
The three residents also said they fear for the safety of others who live in the surrounding condos — the longer it takes for the tree to be removed, the more danger it poses to others.
“I thought they should've evacuated this whole place,” Lauren said. “I don't know how they haven't yet.”
On Jan. 11, the Kirchicks' home was dark and empty, with a giant tree branch protruding from their bedroom wall and into their living room. They took their wedding photos off the walls for safekeeping. A red armchair and plush brown sofa were covered in rubble and dust, and pieces of fluffy insulation foam littered the floor.
“It's going to take months to get the damage cleared up and fixed,” Eric said. In the meantime, the couple plan to spend time with both of their families. They're currently staying at Eric's parents' house nearby, and Lauren's brothers and father drove down from Sacramento to help the couple out.
After everything they've been through, the Kirchicks aren't sure they can remake a home of their old space, Eric said.
Lauren “doesn't want to come back here, and I don't think I do either,” he said. “It's traumatic — when you think you're safe, sleeping in your bed, in your own house, and then… just playing that over and over again, I just don't want to be here.”