[UPDATED with Removal of 100 Trees:] Can Death Be Blamed on Last Week's Small Earthquake?

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Haeyoon-Miller.jpg
UPDATE, SEPT. 21, 9:45 A.M.: Whether or not a small earthquake earlier in the day caused a 10-ton Blue Gum Eucalyptus to fall and crush to death Haeyoon Miller on Thursday afternoon, the city of Newport Beach is cutting down 100 more trees in the same area.

The city announced Tuesday evening that its hired arborist recommended the tree removal from the median along Irvine Avenue between Dover and Westcliff drives. Work is scheduled to begin immediately, closing Irvine in both directions through 5 p.m. Thursday.

Miller, 29, of Tustin, was crushed while waiting at a red light in her 2002 Honda at 17th Street and Irvine Avenue.

ORIGINAL POST, SEPT. 19, 10:20 A.M.: There were several aftershocks through the weekend from the magnitude 3.5 earthquake that struck the Irvine-Newport Beach area early Thursday, the strongest being a 2.2 shaker in Irvine Saturday.

Those are, of course, small to longtime Southern California residents who have slept through even larger quakes. But one death may be linked to the recent earth movements.

It's possible the quake caused a 10-ton Blue Gum Eucalyptus tree to fall on a blue 2002 Honda waiting at a red light at 17th Street and Irvine Avenue Thursday afternoon, crushing to death Haeyoon Miller, 29, of Tustin.

Witnesses say Miller was alert and talking for about an hour while pinned under the tree. Some claimed rescuers lifted the 50-foot tree enough to get her out and then dropped it, a rumor that was quickly denied by fire officials. The county coroner says blunt-force trauma killed Miller.

As a violin prodigy at age 10, she moved to the States from South Korea with her parents to attend Julliard in New York, and she later performed at Carnegie Hall. She attended San Clemente High School and later USC.

At the time the tree fell, Miller was running an errand while on a lunch break from a Newport Beach mortgage firm where she worked as an executive assistant. She and her boyfriend of five years were also in the process of opening a gym for children.


The earthquake being the cause of the freak accident is just one theory. Soil conditions, the health of the tree and whether the ground was wet or slanted could have been factors. While the eucalyptus fell in Costa Mesa, the tree was among those on the border with Newport Beach that are maintained under a contract with that city.

"Under a 2002 agreement with Costa Mesa, Newport Beach maintains the median and the trees within it," reads a City of Newport Beach statement. "Costa Mesa is conducting the accident investigation, but the City of Newport Beach is investigating what caused the tree to fall. In addition, the City's arborist and its tree maintenance contractor, West Coast Arborists, are inspecting every tree in the median along Irvine Avenue from Westcliff / 17th Street to Dover Drive."

The third-party arborist will inspect each tree and make recommendations to remove any found to have any potential risk of falling, adds the city statement, which notes 104 trees in the median are inspected every six months and are pruned once a year.

The fallen eucalyptus tree's canopy was trimmed in April, according to city officials, who add it did not show any evidence of disease based on an initial inspection. The city arborist is now analyzing the 60-year-old Blue Gum's stump.

Another eucalyptus from the same roadway median fell about a year ago. No one was injured then.

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