Owner of wrecked home worries about future damage

2013-06-20T20:00:00Z 2014-06-16T06:15:18Z Owner of wrecked home worries about future damageBy ED KEMMICK ekemmick@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

David Iszler was sitting in the living room of his mobile home on June 12 when a towering cottonwood tree fell and crushed his kitchen.

Fifteen minutes earlier, he had been standing at the kitchen sink, washing dishes. He's convinced he would have been killed had he still been there.

The cottonwood didn't snap off, but was pulled out of the ground at the roots when a storm packing 70 mph winds blew through Billings that morning.

"Because of the way it came out, it didn't make any noise until it hit the trailer," he said

One branch hit Iszler in the head, giving him a small scratch, but otherwise he was unhurt.

He said he felt pretty lucky — until the managers of his trailer court, Windsor Estates at 900 Lake Elmo Drive, told him he was responsible for having the tree removed from his property.

He has been staying with relatives since the incident, and until Thursday he still thought the park owners were not going to have the tree cut up and removed.

"They said I'm responsible for moving that tree off my mobile," he said, even though he only rents a spot from the park. "That magically became my tree after it destroyed my trailer."

Iszler said his home was fully insured, but he couldn't believe anyone would think he should pay to have the tree removed.

Managers of the park called him Thursday morning and said he could go up and get his pickup truck, which had been trapped under a carport by the upper branches of the tree.

When he returned to his place Thursday, he found a crew from J.D. Tree Service cutting up the tree. His pickup was only lightly damaged, protected by the carport.

Iszler said J.B. Tree Service told him it had been hired by Windsor Estates, but as of Thursday afternoon, Iszler said, nobody from the company had told him what their plans were.

Karen Loucks, who manages Windsor Estates with her husband, Bob, acknowledged that they hired the tree service. But she also said Windsor Estates is not responsible for storm damage.

She said the standard rental agreement says the property owner is not responsible for damage by wind "or other natural acts which are beyond our control."

Asked who owned Windsor Estates, she said, "That I cannot give out because it's against their policy."

Tax records in the Yellowstone County Treasurer's Office list the owner as Windsor Mobile Home Park LLC. The only contact is a post office box in Laurel.

Whoever the owners are, Iszler thinks they could be responsible if someone is hurt by a falling tree. There are big cottonwoods throughout the park — the one that hit his house has a circumference of 11 feet at the base — and they are in bad soil.

There is shale under a thin layer of topsoil, he said, with little for the roots to hang onto. He's no tree expert, he said, but "they're not the type of trees that should be in this type of soil."

Iszler said he has lived in the park for 38 years and remembers when a cottonwood fell and crushed another mobile home 10 or 12 years ago.

"The next one's liable to kill somebody," he said. "They got lucky twice." 

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