90-year-old acacia topples over passing jeepney in Zapatera

Posted on August 11, 2011

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KILLER TREE. It took almost an hour to cut off branches and pull out the driver who was fatally injured when the acacia tree fell on his jeepney in Sikatuna Street. (CDN PHOTO/ SAMMY YNCIERTO)

Hala, kahoy!” (Look out, a tree!)

The warning shouted by a jeepney passenger came just in time for six passengers to jump out the vehicle.

It was too late, though, for the driver Clenio Bontuyan, 63.

He was crushed to death when a 90-year-old acacia tree toppled on the jeepney, pinning him in his seat.

The freak accident took place in a well-traveled urban route in front of the Zapatera Elementary School in Sikatuna Street, Cebu City, about 2:30 p.m.

The damage would have been greater if it was dismissal time and schoolchildren were released from class.

The jeepney, which was heading downtown from Talamban, had stopped at a red traffic light near the tree.

Hours before the mishap, another road accident took place downtown when a concrete post of the Visayan Electric Co. fell after a trailer truck snagged overhead telephone cables attached to the post on P. Del Rosario Street.

The post hit the hood of a passing taxi while a woman driving a motorbike suffered minor injuries when she was hit by the fallen wires. (See separate story.)

The impact of a huge tree falling on a jeepney, however, was fatal.

Joemar Lastimosa, who sat behind the driver, told Cebu Daily News he was alerted by the cry of a passenger in the front seat.

“Niingon akong kauban pasahero, ‘Hala, kahoy,’” Lastimosa recalled. (My fellow passenger said, “Look out, a tree.”).

The tree collapsed on the front of the jeepney. The tree’s roots, already exposed to the elements, had apparently weakened over the years.

Kristoffer Encorporado, a customer of a nearby establishment, said he saw the tree hit first overhead electric wires before falling on the jeepney.

An electric transformer exploded, triggering a brownout in some parts of Cebu City.

The accident tied up traffic in the area for almost two hours as rescuers struggled to cut the branches and pull out the victim.

The driver was pronounced dead at the Cebu City Medical Center at 4:25 p.m.

Bontuyan was a former barangay tanod of Talamban for 22 years until he retired about three years ago. He left behind a wife and three children.

His wife, Lucia, said the last time she saw her spouse, they were both selling cooked food along the road in Talamban at noon. By 1 p.m., her husband excused himself to drive his 13C jeepney route.

Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama ordered staff to coordinate with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to check the status of other old trees along roads in the city.

“The appearance of the trees could be very deceiving. Even in City Hall, a century-old tree just fell and hit a car. We didn’t see that coming.”

T he tree has been there since the 1920s, said former Zapatera barangay captain Frank Benedicto, who observed that the roots were already rotting and the soil was weakened by continuous rain.

He said the tree was planted by the Borromeo family who used to have a clinic in the area.

Next to the acacia or rain tree is an old tipolo tree.

Barangay officials decided to trim several of its overhanging branches to avoid another accident. /By Chito O Aragon and Jhunnex Napallacan, Correspondent