Friday, January 22, 2021

Falling tree kills Post Falls man

Staff Writer | January 14, 2021 1:00 AM

A Post Falls man was killed during Wednesday's windstorm.

According to the Idaho State Police, Jon Snider was driving northbound near Beauty Bay on State Highway 97 just before 8 a.m. Wednesday when a tree fell.

"A tree came off the hillside to his right, struck his pickup, and caused him to drive over the embankment," said Idaho State Police Sgt. Ron Sutton. "It was very steep. He went clear — almost to the bottom. Once we got an officer down the hill, that's when he was pronounced dead. We believe the tree strike that hit his pickup was also what killed him."

By 4 p.m., ISP logged seven property crashes, one fatality, and 77 calls for traffic hazard service, ISP Sgt. Allen Ashby said. Dozens of trees and electrical lines littered North Idaho's roadways, obstructing lanes and even off ramps on state highways 41, 97, 3 and Interstate 90.

"For the most part, I've seen a lot of good Samaritans on the streets," Ashby said. "I live downtown, and I saw numerous neighbors helping others and even observed guys on the highway pullover with chain saws to help get the road back open. It was encouraging."

The Coeur d'Alene Fire Department, Northern Lakes Fire Department, Kootenai County Fire and Rescue, and Kootenai County Emergency Medical Services saw nearly 1,000 calls combined.

Due to HIPAA regulations, Kootenai Health officials said they could not disclose the number of hospital transports and admissions caused by the storm.

On a typical day, the Kootenai County Sheriff's Office dispatch center receives about 300 calls, Lt. Ryan Higgins said, but by 11 a.m. Wednesday, the agency had logged 700.

Higgins, who started his shift around 6 a.m., said the brunt of calls were about traffic hazards, fallen trees, and electricity issues.

"I've monitored the Coeur d'Alene city calls, and it looks like they got hit hard," he said. "One neighborhood in Hayden, the Emerald Estates up by Government Way and Lancaster Road, got hit really hard with trees on the whole block."

Eric Shanley, the Lakes Highway District director, also mentioned the devastation of the Emerald Estates Subdivision.

"I had to pull my morning crew out of the area until the wind subsided because the damage was significant," Shanley said. "I've been with the highway district for 13 years, and I've never seen this kind of damage."

Due to the recent rainfall, Shanley said the county's ground was highly saturated, making trees more easily uprooted. In the Lakes Highway District area, Shanley anticipates several weeks of cleanup.

For every call, the Coeur d'Alene Police Department received Tuesday, Capt. Dave Hagar said one thing was prioritized — life.

"We saw some great heroic action, and we saw a lot of damage throughout the city," Hagar said. "One instance, we got a call of a woman trapped inside her house on the couch. Three officers broke in to physically push debris off the resident to get her out."

At one point, Hagar said police had 39 units in the field answering calls.

"We have damage all over the city trying to get the biggest things first," he said. "We want everyone to be safe, and we appreciate the publics' patience and those stepping up to help their neighbors."

Rathdrum residents spent most of Wednesday in the dark after the storm damaged power lines, including a tree knocked down on State Highway 41. Rathdrum Police Sgt. Brandon Friis said officers were on the scene by 7:30 a.m. and were still there at 2 p.m.

"Within the Rathdrum city limits, I have not seen the State Highway closed this long," Friis said. "We're a little over six hours now."

Oversized loads, semi-trucks, and passenger vehicles were advised to avoid SH41 near Coeur d'Alene Street by ISP early in the morning, causing the RPD to divert traffic into subdivisions for the majority of the day. As of 3:30 p.m., ISP had resolved the issue, and roadways were open to regular traffic — eight hours after police were initially notified.

Officials from the Post Falls, Lakes, and East Highway District expected to have most major roads cleared Wednesday night, with crews operating around the county over the next couple of weeks.

With the aid of the Kootenai County Office of Emergency Management and the Citizens Inquiry Line activation, Higgins said KCSO was able to field nonemergency calls from 911 emergencies and answer citizens promptly.