A Baby Dies and Agencies Pass the Buck

Who is responsible for maintaining trees in Central Park?

A baby died. Her mother was critically injured when a tree branch fell in Central Park Saturday.  And today agencies that seem to bear some responsibility for what happened were passing the buck.

 We sought comment from the Central Park Conservancy, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the city Parks Department-. Nobody could -- or would -- enlighten us. 

The tragedy happened just outside the zoo. It was a beautiful June day and the father, Mike Ricciutti, was taking pictures of his wife and daughter, six-month-old Gianna Ricciutti. There was a cracking sound, the mother fell and the baby flew out of her arms.

 A statement from a city Parks Department spokeswoman is perplexing. Vickie Karp says: “The investigation as to why the limb fell is ongoing, as is a review of specific responsibility for tree maintenance.”

If the department doesn’t know who is responsible for tree maintenance, who does?

This little bit of flimflam points up one of the unfortunate developments of recent years. The Parks Department, a city agency, has farmed out the responsibility for overseeing 26,000 trees to the Central Park Conservancy. In addition, the Wildlife Conservation Society has jurisdiction over the zoo. And where does the Parks Department fit into this picture? Apparently these private, non-profit agencies are loosely under the city’s supervision.

Geoffrey Croft, the leader of a group called NYC Park Advocates, said he has received complaints from citizens about park maintenance for months.

“The level of maintenance is so poor. The 26,000 trees should be inspected regularly. No one wants to take responsibility when something like this happens. This is the fourth accident in less than a year.”

Said Croft: “There’s no accountability. And that is sad. This kind of thing is happening too often.”

In February, an Albanian immigrant, Elmaz Qyra of  Brooklyn, died when a snow-laden branch dropped on him on the Literary Walk. Last July Google engineer Sasha Blair-Goldensohn suffered brain and spinal damage from a rotten branch that fell from a tree near the park’s West 63rd Street entrance.

The public has a right to know what’s happening. We need independent scrutiny of the parks. Not finger pointing or shrugging off of responsibility.

Central Park is a magnificent tribute to the vision of its designers, Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux in the 19th Century. This oasis of natural beauty must be protected at all costs, for the families who enjoy it and for the city it represents. 

 If there was negligence in this tragedy, the district attorney should be investigating it. Central Park and all our parklands deserve the ultimate protection of the law itself. If there was negligence, it must be exposed and corrected

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